GOP budget bill lifts wolf protections

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Republican budget bill would strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protections across most of the Northern Rockies — an indication the new Congress intends to move swiftly to settle the long-running legal skirmish over the predators.

Biologists estimate that more than 1,700 wolves inhabit the region, in at least 115 packs that are taking a mounting toll on domestic livestock and big game herds.

Two prior attempts to lift protections for the predators were reversed by a federal judge in Montana following lawsuits from environmentalists. Now lawmakers want to shield the Department of Interior from future legal challenges, effectively making Congress the final arbiter on whether wolves have recovered.

The wolf measure was tucked into the GOP’s continuing budget resolution. Introduced Friday in the House, it would fund the government through the end of the 2010 fiscal year on Sept. 30. An earlier budget resolution is due to expire March 4.

The two-sentence provision directs Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reissue a 2009 rule that took wolves off the endangered list in Montana, Idaho and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah. The reinstated rule “shall not be subject to judicial review,” according to the provision.

It was added to the budget bill by Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Interior Department.


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