The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (“Service”) has reached an agreement with the majority of the plaintiffs, including the Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and eight other conservation organizations, to settle ongoing litigation over a Federal District Court’s 2010 decision (pdf) to reinstate Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) protections for the Rocky Mountain gray wolf.

The proposed settlement allows the Service to temporarily return management of the recovered wolf populations in Idaho and Montana to the states, while continuing efforts to recover the species in other parts of the Rocky Mountains. Federal protections would remain in place in Wyoming and portions of Oregon, Washington and Utah. Separate negotiations are ongoing between the Service and the State of Wyoming regarding a state management plan that could facilitate a final delisting for the species in that state.

According to Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes, “[f]or too long, management of wolves in this country has been caught up in controversy and litigation instead of rooted in science where it belongs. This proposed settlement provides a path forward to recognize the successful recovery of the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains and to return its management to states and tribes."

The settlement must be approved by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, whose August 2010 decision addressed whether de-listing the gray wolf in the states of Montana and Idaho, while leaving federal protections in place for wolves in Wyoming, violated the ESA. The court held that the entire region’s wolf population must be listed under the ESA, rather than the wolf’s status varying from state to state. The ESA protections for the gray wolf were subsequently reinstated in all three states. To address this issue, the settlement provides that the Service would agree to address the delisting of wolves in the region as a distinct population segment, rather than on a state-by-state basis.

The proposed settlement would also be terminated if Congress passes its own wolf delisting language, as has been proposed in both House and Senate spending bills.