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Lawsuit Seeks to Restore Federal Protection to Gray Wolves in Northern Rockies
Missoula, MT—May 5. Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, and WildEarth Guardians today filed suit in federal court in Montana against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delisting wolves in Montana, Idaho, and portions of Utah, Washington, and Oregon. The Service published the delisting rule today in compliance with a Congressional budget rider passed on April 15.
“We will not allow the fate of endangered species to be determined by politicians serving special interests. These decisions must be based on science, not politics,” stated Michael Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Congress has never before delisted species from the Endangered Species list. There is a well-established legal process that applies to every other species. Congress simply should not get into the business of making decisions over which of our nation’s imperiled animals and plants will and will not get protection.”
The groups charge in their complaint that the delisting rider violates the U.S. Constitution, as it specifically repeals a judicial decision. While Congress has the right to make and amend laws, the wolf delisting rider (Section 1713 of the budget law, HR 1473, PL 112-10) does not amend the Endangered Species Act. Rather, it orders the reinstatement of the 2009 wolf delisting rule.
“The rider goes against a bedrock principle of our democracy: checks and balances between branches of government,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Legislators can’t pick off specific court decisions they don’t like. That’s not fair for the wolf, and it’s certainly not good for our democracy.”
The 2009 rule delisted wolves in the Northern Rockies, with the exception of Wyoming. Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater and other organizations challenged that rule on the basis that it violated the Endangered Species Act by carving out areas in which wolf protection would be revoked, along state lines. In August 2010, Montana Federal Judge Donald Molloy determined that the 2009 rule was illegal and struck down the 2007 Interior Solicitor’s legal memo on which it was based.
The current Interior Solicitor, Hilary Tompkins, herself revoked the illegal 2007 memo yesterday, but the withdrawal of the illegal memo came too late for wolves in the Northern Rockies. Those wolves are now facing drastic policies at the state level. Montana announced earlier this week that it will likely allow up to 220 of the 566 wolves in the state to be killed this year. In late April, Idaho passed a law declaring a gray wolf “disaster emergency” that gives the governor broad discretion to allow wolf killing statewide. Idaho officials reportedly stated to the Lewiston Morning Tribune earlier this week that aerial gunning of wolves in the Lolo Elk Management Zone will begin “‘with all due haste’” once the delisting rule is issued. The Lolo killing plan targets wolves for killing their native prey, elk, as does a similar plan in the West Fork area of the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana.
“We are doing all we can to hold back the tide of wolf-killing in Montana, Idaho, and elsewhere in the Northern Rockies,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “This ecologically important species is being unfairly targeted out of ignorance and intolerance and now lacks a federal shield from killing.”
There has been widespread concern over the use of the budget bill to tack on policy riders. Wrote Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in an April 18, 2011 letter to President Obama, “A six-month budget resolution negotiated through backroom discussions is clearly the wrong vehicle to make permanent changes to significant public policy. For nearly 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has assured decisions about our nation's natural heritage are driven by science, fish and wildlife professionals, and public input. Removing protection for an endangered species by congressional mandate, much less through a budget bill, stands in unprecedented contrast to this history. This action erodes the integrity of the ESA, excludes important public involvement, and usurps the agency structure, established based on a balancing of executive and legislative branch power, that exists to undertake important decisions affecting America's wildlife.”
“We’re back in court for two reasons,” concluded Garrity. “First and foremost,it’s to continue to protect wolves from indiscriminate slaughter. Second,someone has to stand up when the basic tenets of our government are under attack by unscrupulous politicians and that would be the Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, and WildEarth Guardians.”