Wolf Hunt Canceled, Debate Rages On

In a showdown between the federal courts and state government, a judge ruled that wolves in Montana and Idaho should be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act last week. The ruling effectively canceled planned hunts in the two states and baffled hunters and wildlife officials across the West.

Thankfully, Montana wildlife officials are not giving up just yet. They announced a plan today to seek a special federal permit that would allow public wolf hunting despite the court order. But because of the large amount of red tape involved, even if the permit is granted it's unlikely that they'll be able to save the 2010 wolf hunt in either Montana or Idaho.

Another option could be trying to downgrade wolves to threatened and then getting federal permission to hunt them.

The ruling last week came shortly after Montana decided to more than double its wolf hunt quota from 75 to 186. Idaho had also decided to increase the number of wolves hunters could take in the 2010 season (both states had their first wolf hunt in decades last year). But as of right now, all of that counts for nothing and the wolf hunt is off the table.

On Thursday, federal Judge Donald Molloy ruled that to apply federal protections to wolves in Wyoming and not to those in Montana and Idaho was "like saying an orange is an orange only when it is hanging on a tree," according to the New York Times.

Wolves, he ruled, "can be endangered wherever they are within the range" of the distinct wolf population covered by federal protections.

The counter argument brought by many wildlife officials and hunters is that wolf populations in certain regions are booming and they're decimating deer and elk herds. Currently there are more than 500 wolves in Montana and 835 wolves in Idaho.