By Keith Ridler
Environmentalists have asked a federal appeals court for an emergency injunction to halt wolf hunts scheduled to start in a few weeks in Idaho and Montana.

The request filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and other groups with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was mad e public Saturday. The groups want the hunts canceled until the court issues a decision in an appeal filed Monday challenging a federal judge's ruling allowing the hunts to go forward.

"We think if we don't get an injunction, the wolf population in the Rockies will be decimated," Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Wolf hunts are scheduled to start Aug. 30 in Idaho and Sept. 3 in Montana. Hunters in Montana will be able to shoot as many as 220 gray wolves, reducing the predators' Montana population by about 25 percent to a minimum of 425 wolves.

State wildlife managers in Idaho, where an estimated 1,000 wolves roam, have declined to name a target for kills for the seven-month hunting season, saying only that Idaho will manage wolves so that their population remains above 150 animals and 15 breeding pairs. That's the point where Idaho could attract federal scrutiny for a possible re-listing under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy earlier this month reluctantly upheld a budget rider passed by Congress in April that stripped wolves of federal protections in Montana and Idaho, and in parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah.

The provision was inserted by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. It marked the first time since the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 that Congress forcibly removed protections from a plant or animal.

Molloy ruled that the way Congress went about removing endangered species protections from the Northern Rockies gray wolf undermined the rule of law but did not violate the Constitution.

The environmental groups contend the way Congress removed the protections was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers, the constitutional principle ensuring none of the three branches of government tramples on the independence of the other branches.

"Congress has the authority to make laws and change existing laws," Garrity said. "But courts are the only ones allowed to rule whether laws are legal or not. If (Congress) can get away with it on an endangered species, they can get away with it under any issue that is before the court."

But Molloy, in his ruling, said he was constrained by past 9th Circuit rulings that required him to interpret the rider as not violating the separation of powers.

Garrity said a hunting season should not be allowed until the wolf population is between 2,000 and 5,000, with wolves spread out in Western states, including northern California.

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, said Saturday he had not seen the request for the emergency injunction but reiterated that state wildlife managers are fully capable of managing wolves.

"We've proven we can manage wolves responsibly," Hanian said. "Under the Endangered Species Act, wolves have had a robust recovery in Idaho, and the explosive growth of the population left unchecked continues to have an unacceptable impact."

It's unclear when the appeals court might rule on the injunction.

Congress' action did not include wolves in Wyoming. The U.S. Department of Interior and Wyoming officials earlier this month reached a separate tentative agreement over how to end federal protections for wolves there. Wolves immediately outside Yellowstone National Park would be subject to regulated hunting in a zone that would expand slightly in the winter months to give wolves more protection. The deal still must be approved by state lawmakers.

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Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev

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