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Jodi Peterson | Aug 09, 2011 12:00 AM

After two decades of restoration, roughly 1,700 gray wolves now roam the Northern Rockies. But constant court battles over their management led Congress to end federal protection in May, using a budget rider to sidestep the Endangered Species Act (see our May 30 story).

Last week, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy unhappily upheld the rider, citing precedent set by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but noting that Congress' action showed "disrespect for the fundamental rule of law." Kierán Suckling, head of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that challenged the rider, told the Lewiston Tribune, “(Molloy) is laying out a road map on how to appeal his own ruling and take it all the way to the Supreme Court.” And today, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and WildEarth Guardians took the first step, appealing Molloy's ruling. The Missoulian reports:

(Michael Garrity of Alliance for the Wild Rockies)  added that federal District Judge Donald Molloy's ruling - released late Wednesday - appeared to give plenty of reasons for its own overturning.

"What Judge Molloy said was he was following 9th Circuit precedent," Garrity said on Thursday. "The 9th Circuit can overturn its own precedent."

Meanwhile, Idaho's wolf-hunting season is slated to begin Aug. 30; Montana's starts in early September. The appeal probably won't block either hunt. And the Interior Department finally agreed on a management plan with Wyoming. Outside Yellowstone National Park, wolves in northwest Wyoming would be considered “trophy game”; in the rest of the state they could be shot on sight year-round.

While the number of wolves has been on a steady trajectory up (at least until now), the number of salmon has been dropping for decades.

Once, 16 million spawning salmon returned to the Northwest’s Columbia River Basin each year; now, only a small number do. Biologists recommend removing four dams on the Lower Snake River, but those dams provide 1,000 megawatts of power and a 140-mile barge corridor, so the federal agencies involved have resisted. For two decades, Federal District Court Judge James Redden has struck down the agencies' salmon recovery plans, questioning their legal and scientific merit (see our 2009 story "Salmon Salvation"). He's ordered dam operators to spill more water during spring to help young salmon, and says that if the runs don't recover, dam removal must be an option.

In early August, Judge Redden shot down another salmon plan for the Northwest, saying it does not clearly specify how it will improve habitat. The judge gave the agencies until January 2014 to try again; it's time for them to seriously consider dam removal, he told The Oregonian, since they have "fail(ed) to follow through with their commitments to hydropower modifications proven to increase survival."


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