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U.S. appeals court allows wolf hunts

Mar 14, 2012 - By Matthew Brown, The Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that want to block wolf hunts that have killed more than 500 of the predators across the Northern Rockies in recent months.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves last spring.

Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued to restore protections, said an appeal was under consideration but no decision had been made.

"We're very disappointed and very saddened," Robinson said. "Hundreds of wolves have been hunted and trapped and snared, and they are essential to their ecosystem." He called the congressional budget bill rider that lifted protections "an undemocratic way to promulgate a flawed policy."

The number of wolves in the region grew slightly last year. There are at least 1,774 in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and portions of eastern Oregon and Washington.

Wolf hunting is allowed in Montana and Idaho and could resume in Wyoming this fall. Idaho also allows trapping.

Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals' reintroduction to the region and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species had reached the government's original recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts, but agency officials said they have no plans to intervene because wolves have recovered in the region and the states have promised to manage them responsibly.

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