Friday, March 3, 2017

Federal Court Puts Wyoming Wolves Back in the Crosshairs, Decision Poised to Impact Wolves Beyond the State

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A federal appeals court today upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2012 decision to remove gray wolves in Wyoming from the endangered species list to allow trophy/predator hunting to resume immediately.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that USFWS reasonably found that Wyoming had adequate plans to ensure a healthy population.

The decision reverses a lower-court ruling that restored federal protections for the wolves in 2014, and is poised to impact wolves far beyond Wyoming's borders.

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Background

Just over four years ago in 2012, the USFWS officially stripped federal protections from Wyoming's wolves and handed management over to the state, a controversial decision, and contradiction of the agency's stance in the past. Although USFWS had previously criticized Wyoming's state wolf plan on the grounds that unregulated shooting in most of the state would reduce the state’s wolf population below federally required levels, the agency took a significantly altered position, announcing that these wolves no longer warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The following day, management was handed over to the state and Wyoming's inaugural wolf hunt commenced.

A few weeks later, a coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice officially filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia asking "the court to declare this rule illegal, and put wolves back on the endangered species list until Wyoming adopts a responsible management plan that ensures the continued survival and recovery of wolves in the region."
Wyoming wolves receive a reprieve in 2014

On September 23, 2014, Judge Amy Berman Jackson invalidated USFWS' s 2012 statewide delisting. The ruling reinstated federal protections and ended management of wolves by Wyoming, a state with a kill-on-sight approach to wolf management. In its 2012 management plan Wyoming promised to maintain more than the required 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside the national parks. The judge took issue with an addendum in the plan assuring that it would maintain a buffer of wolves above the required number because it did not specify how many wolves or make the buffer binding by law. Because the addendum was legally unenforceable, the judge found the buffer to be a violation of the ESA.

Broader Implications of Today's Decision - Nationwide Delisting

The decision, which reverses a lower-court ruling that restored federal protections for the wolves in 2014, and is poised to impact wolves far beyond Wyoming's borders. The decision to return wolf management to Wyoming paves the way for USFWS to issue their national wolf delisting rule -- meaning all wolves in the lower 48 (except Mexican wolves and red wolves) can lose protection at a time when they have claimed less than 10% of their historic range.

Moreover, Wyoming’s wolf management policies can influence expectations about wildlife management in other states.

"USFWS caved to Wyoming’s insistence on keeping the predator zone," said Wolf Conservation Center's Maggie Howell. "With the service on the cusp of delisting wolves across the United States, any concessions that are allowed in Wyoming by the federal government could set a precedent for other states to bargain with. It's both wrong and dangerous to allow a state with a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies to set an example for other states to follow. Today's ruling to uphold the USFWS's 2012 decision is bad news for wolves beyond the state's borders."

Stay tuned for updates.

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