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Lawmakers try to lift wolf protection despite deal

By Matthew Brown

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 1 2011 9:20 a.m. MDT

FILE - This 2004 photograph provided by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks shows an adult male wolf from the Lazy Creek pack north of Whitefish, Mont. A proposed legal settlement over the status of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies could be trumped by Congress, as lawmakers say they are not going to wait for the settlement to be finalized before pushing ahead with their bills to strip wolves of federal protections.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, File, Associated Press

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BILLINGS, Mont. — Western lawmakers said they will keep pushing to lift federal protections for gray wolves despite a proposed settlement between some environmentalists and the Obama administration.

The settlement faces several legal hurdles before it can go into effect, leaving uncertain whether it will be approved before lawmakers act.

The deal would lift endangered species protections for about 1,250 wolves and allow hunting in Idaho and Montana. Protections would be retained, at least temporarily, for almost 400 wolves in Wyoming and portions of Utah, Washington and Oregon.

The agreement also includes safeguards sought by environmentalists, most notably a scientific review in a few years that could put the species back on the endangered list if too many wolves are killed by hunting.

Yet Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana told The Associated Press he won't wait to push through legislation if Congress can act more quickly. And in the House, Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson said he, too, remains committed to his pending proposal to lift wolf protections.

Both lawmakers — and many others in the region — have said they prefer legislation that would prevent courts from again intervening in the issue.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Montana has twice rejected attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare wolves recovered in the Northern Rockies. The proposed settlement was filed with Molloy March 18 and he held a hearing on it last week but made no decision.

"I don't know when Judge Molloy is going to decide which way to go, whether to accept the settlement or not," Tester told the AP. Tester added that he was "looking for any opportunity" to pass a provision on wolves that already made it through the House once.

Ten environmental groups signed onto the settlement with the administration last month following almost a decade of litigation.

Some of the groups said they did so reluctantly, on the premise Congress would back down from bills considered to be dangerous precedents for undercutting the Endangered Species Act.

"We continue to think the settlement is the best step in a political strategy to head off disastrous congressional action," said Kieran Suckling with the Center for Biological Diversity.

"That's why we went into this settlement. Otherwise there wouldn't be much point," he added, saying his group still does not consider wolves adequately recovered.

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