Big Sky Weekly Staff Writer

BILLINGS – The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 14 ruled that Congress’s 2011 decision to remove gray wolves in Montana and Idaho from the federal endangered species list did not violate the Constitution.

Backed by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) and by Rep. Mike Simpson, (R-Idaho), the amendment marked the first time Congress, rather than a science-based federal agency, directly interfered with endangered species protection.

Under the new law, wolves in the two states have been managed by state wildlife agencies. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks used this leverage to allow a wolf hunt this year, which may also help the agency manage other wildlife like elk and deer.

In a unanimous decision, the democratically appointed 9th Circuit three-judge panel found that because Congress’s decision was passed as an amendment, it did not violate the Constitutional separation of powers law. The panel rejected the arguments of environmental groups claiming wolves had lost protection before their populations recovered.

Environmental and conservation groups are concerned that this may set a precedent for future de-listing of animals. Hunting groups lauded the decision.

The plaintiffs may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.