Jason Rylander, Senior Staff Attorney
Wyoming’s wolves will be getting their day in court. Today, Defenders of Wildlife — along with our colleagues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity, all represented by Earthjustice — officially filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia challenging the Obama Administration’s decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming. Since the final delisting rule took effect on September 30, it has been open season on wolves in most of the state.
Two months ago, as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), we filed a notice of intent to sue the administration if it did not reconsider its premature delisting of Wyoming’s wolves. At that time, I wrote that we would file a complaint in the U.S. District Court at the very first opportunity. That we would “ask 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.”
Now the mandatory waiting period is over, and that is just what we have done. We are cautiously optimistic. Courts have thus far found every previous attempt to delist wolves in the northern Rockies to be illegal under the ESA. Unfortunately, wolves in Montana and Idaho were delisted by an unprecedented act of Congress in 2011. Since then, Montana and Idaho have allowed ever more aggressive wolf management, including liberalized hunting seasons, wolf quotas, and even trapping. Now Wyoming could be next. As of October 1, 2012, Wyoming was thought to have an estimated 328 wolves. Under the Wyoming delisting rule, however, the state has committed to maintaining just 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation. In up to 85 percent of the state, wolves lack any protections and can be killed by any means at any time. In sum, Wyoming’s wolf management plan is a throwback to the days when wolves were recklessly targeted for elimination, and not a scientifically-based strategy for keeping wolves off the endangered species list.
As we wrote in the complaint we filed today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist Wyoming’s wolves “despite excessive human-caused mortality promoted under state management, contradicts the purposes and mandates of the ESA” and “ignores fundamental principles of conservation biology. Thus, the delisting rule is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to the law, and must be set aside.” We hope the court agrees. As the case moves forward, we’ll be sure to keep you updated on new developments.
As with many lawsuits, progress may be slow, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Wyoming’s wolves cannot speak up for themselves — it’s up to us, with your support, to bring their voice into the courtroom, and to tell people that what is happening in Wyoming is anything but responsible wildlife management.