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The National Rifle Association is asking a federal court judge to allow the group to join a lawsuit regarding the removal of wolves from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho.

In documents filed late Friday, Chris Cox, an NRA executive director, said their members hunt in states where wolves are now present and "have experienced anger and frustration during times when their state wildlife management authorities were powerless to take necessary action to control their states' problem wolves."

He adds that if the 13 conservation groups that sued to retain gray wolves' protected status are successful in their lawsuit, then NRA members will lose their ability to hunt and enjoy recreational opportunities in Montana and Idaho "due to the threat to themselves, their pets and their prey from problem wolves."

In particular, NRA member Vincent Pirozzi III, who lives in Nevada, said in legal papers that he was hunting in the Danaher Valley in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in Montana in November 2005, when he had his "most memorable and probably most life-threatening encounter with wolves."

Pirozzi said he and his guide heard wolves howling throughout the morning, and "suddenly the woods came alive with elk and the guide and I were overrun with a herd of about 40 elk stampeding past us. …"

He said the snow was too deep for he and the guide to move, so they watched as they were surrounded by 30 wolves in what appeared to be three packs.

Pirozzi said they watched as three wolves attempted to take down a young calf, but the cow elk kept protecting it.

"In a move that could have had dire consequences, the guide and I decided to try and save the calf by throwing snow balls at the wolves," Pirozzi said. "We managed to hit the wolves a few times and they retreated back to where some of the other wolves were waiting below."

He said the cow and calf escaped, and the wolves eventually dispersed.

Pirozzi claims that the presence of wolves has significantly affected his hunting opportunities, enjoyment and success, and that he will be further harmed if gray wolves aren't delisted.

All legal briefs involving the case are to be filed by Jan. 28, 2010. Plaintiffs include Defenders of wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia wildlands, Western Watershed Project, Wildlands Network and Hells Canyon Preservation Network.

The groups say more wolves are needed across the landscape in order to ensure genetic diversity. In addition, they argue that the Endangered Species Act doesn't allow for delisting in some states but not an adjacent one, which is what the federal government has done by keeping wolves as a listed species in Wyoming.

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Many in those groups add that while they don't oppose hunting, it's just too soon.

State and federal officials, however, say wolves have exceeded recovery levels, and that the main reason they remain listed in Wyoming is the state's insistence on labeling wolves as predators that can be shot on sight except in areas around Yellowstone National Park.

They add that wolf numbers are continuing to grow, and fear that if the wolf population continues to rise unchecked, they'll turn more often to livestock for a food source and also kill too many deer and elk.

Montana is home to about 500 wolves, with at least another 850 in Idaho and about 300 in Wyoming. That's well beyond initial levels set by the federal government for healthy wolf populations.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com

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