NRDC and 12 other groups to sue on new wolf delisting

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Conservation Groups Bring Wolf Fight Back Into Court
NRDC and Twelve Groups fight decision to remove Northern Rocky Mountain wolves from Endangered Species List

LIVINGSTON, Mont. (April 1, 2009) -The long fight over wolves in the Northern Rockies continued today when the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a coalition of concerned conservation groups announced a legal challenge to the recent US Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove wolves from the federal Endangered Species list. NRDC has long-advocated for a national wolf plan with recovery goals based on the most current science, which would point to the need for a larger population of animals with the opportunity for natural genetic interchange; benchmarks likely unattainable under the states’ wolf management plans.

“Last time the Service removed legal protections, there was an all out war on wolves in the weeks that followed,” said Louisa Willcox, Director of the NRDC’s office in Livingston, Mont. “We are so incredibly close to fulfilling the conditions necessary to declare the wolves’ comeback as complete, but this move threatens to undo what should be an incredible conservation success story.”
When the Bush Administration removed protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies last year, it resulted in the death of over 100 wolves. The State of Idaho recently proposed killing 120 in one area, the Clearwater, and has its sites on killing an additional 26 packs in the state.

Due to inadequacy of the State of Wyoming’s management plan, wolves will retain legal protections within that state while becoming subject to hunts in Idaho and Montana. This move is in clear opposition to previously long-standing Department of Interior policy, which found that wolves in the Northern Rockies constitute a single population and could not be broken up on a state-by-state basis. Documents stating this had been available on the Department’s Web site, including this 2004 letter to the State of Wyoming and a 2003 Fish and Wildlife Service memo on wolves, stating, “We cannot use a boundary between states to subdivide a single biological population in an effort to artificially create a discrete population.”

“State borders don’t mean much to wolves—they don’t know Wyoming from West Virginia,” said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, NRDC Staff Scientist whose genetic expertise was central in the federal court challenge environmentalists won against the previous effort to remove wolf protections. “We agree that Wyoming’s plan is inadequate, but you cannot have protections start and stop at state lines, particularly when genetic interchange between the packs is essential for the wolf’s long-term survival. It undermines the needs of both wolves and the people who live in the region.”

The coalition will give the Department of Interior 60-day notice of the suit tomorrow, when the rule is officially published (it is available today online). The suit will be filed by Earthjustice on behalf of NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Western Watersheds Project, Wildlands Project, and Hell’s Canyon Preservation Council.

“Secretary Salazar and the Department of Interior have pushed through a policy that sidesteps the law as well as the needs of both wolves and the people who live in the region,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of NRDC’s Endangered Species Project. “A real solution is going to require a national plan that sets recovery goals based on the latest science and ensures natural genetic interchange for the packs in the region. Anything else is likely to fall short of what is required by the law and just gets in the way of a long-term solution for all the parties involved. Let’s get this thing fixed.”

Tens of thousands of gray wolves once roamed North America before being slaughtered and eliminated from 95 percent of their habitat in lower 48 states in the 1930s. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Disease has taken a further toll on the packs in and around Yellowstone National Park shrinking the park population by 27% and slowing the broader region’s population growth in 2008, offering further proof of the wolves’ vulnerable status in the region.

The reintroduction of wolves by the federal government has measurably improved the natural balance in the Northern Rockies and benefited streamside habitats and riparian forests, as well as pronghorn antelope bird, rodent, and elk populations. Many thousands of visitors flock to Yellowstone National Park each year to see and hear wolves in the wild, contributing at least $35 million to the local economy each year, according to some studies.

The rule can be viewed online at

Check the Switchboard blog for commentary from NRDC’s science and legal teams at

Broadcast quality wolf video is available to members of the media at



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  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Hidden in the delisting rule at the bottom of page 128, in response to comments, the Department references the March 16, 2007 Solicitor’s Opinion (which interpreted a “significant portion of a species range” as based upon “current” rather than “historic” range). The Department then states the following: “We agree with the interpretation of the Act set forth in the Solicitor’s opinion…”

    JB, who regularly comments here, has posted many times about this George W. Bush interpretation of the ESA. It is intolerable that the Obama Administration would do this, so even if this was just a delisting of a butterfly, I say sue, sue, sue!

  2. Eric T. Avatar
    Eric T.

    A national plan……………..the goal posts have been moved again.

  3. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    Round and around we go! Is anybody surprised? I am not, I figured when it was announced that they were going to delist again, that the wheels of law were running overtime.

    What I am surprised at, is the groups that want the wolves delisted have not file suit to force delisting….

    I suspect this will again be filed before the same judge and the same outcome will come to pass and then they can start the next round…but I suspect this go around, the states will become more involved…it will be interesting to see how it comes out! I honestly think that it will eventually end up in the Supreme court before it is all said and done…

  4. mikarooni Avatar

    Now you’re going to see the kind of collaborative effort that really works! …and, Ralph, don’t be so down on the Obama Administration yet. Yes, Ken Salazar was a mediocre selection at best (Raul Grijalva would have been a better choice by far on the face of it); but, especially in this particular instance, sometimes the best, most solid, and broadest way to permanently discredit and reverse a previous administration’s policy precedent is to trot it out in properly structured test case and get it overturned formally, once and for all as settled case law. The best legal strategies often work in counterintuitive ways.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Good point, milkarooni. We can tell whether it is so by the kind of defense the Administration puts up.

    They could actually do a lot of good by losing very badly.

    It is just a feeling I have — they will actually try to win the case.

  6. mikarooni Avatar

    They certainly have to convincingly look like they “actually try to win the case” or face political backlash in the newly Democratic West. Baucus, Tester, and others may be lousy Democrats; but, they still count when it comes to determining committee chairs, etc. The last thing the administration wants is to lose the majority by losing those kinds of straggler seats.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    They can blame it on Bush Administration holdovers, like the Ted Stevens debacle. 😉

  8. Hoosier Avatar

    Sounds like many pro-wolfers would be better off supporting the Bush program. After all he was in office 8 years and only in the end of his last term did the wolf arguement come up. Obama well lets see 3 monthes in and wolves soon to be out!

    At least the Bush guys didn’t start pushing there program to delist the minute the recovery goals were met.

    I am curious to know if anyone is doing a study that (doens’t have all pro-wolf attitude) to detrmine the affects that wolves are having on elk? It is very hard for me to believe that so many hunters, sportsman, and outfitters can all be wrong about herd numbers. I have said this before: Someone is not telling the complete truth because I don’t think pro-wolfers want the public to know the real numbers. Even Ralph has made mention in past post to stop reporting wolf sightings! WHY WHY WHY! What is wrong with telling the facts and the TRUTH????? And if there is something wrong with it you are no more crediable than the “redneck” you like to joust at!

  9. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Hoosier, the complete truth is being told. I base this on the fact that the pro-wolf people are making their arguments based on science showing predator and prey relationships that have been well known for decades. It has been proven that elk in Yellowstone have changed their behavior due to the presence of wolves. They are no longer staying for long periods of time along river and creek banks and they are not staying in the open all the time. Wouldn’t this explain why hunters, outfitters, and sportsmen are noticing a “drop.” Why is that I have seen no decrease in elk numbers in the many times I have been in Yellowstone? I still see the same numbers every time, everywhere in the park. Let’s also consider that there are still going to be elk that are killed by winters and other causes. If you want to see a good article showing predator and prey cycles that fluctuate you can probably just Google Isle Royale and investigate that. The elk population may drop for a period of time but it will probably come back again. I think Ralph is probably telling people not to report wolf sightings so that the wolves will not get shot when the wrong person reads about it.

    Note: if people want to read scholarly studies (refereed science) about wolves and elk, use Google Scholar. I read a couple I found that way tonight. That is better than reading newspapers, watching TV, talking with buddies or reading this blog. RM

  10. Brian Ertz Avatar

    Playing politics with the Rule of Law and science guided administration of listed species in the way as suggested above is just as bad for our country, our wildlife, and our democracy as this rule is itself. Obama didn’t give a rip about wolves or wildlife – he punted it to Salazar – Salazar has done everything he can to sidestep and undermine the ESA for ranchers while working in Colorado and as Senator – this is no different.

  11. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Elk and wolf studies in Yellowstone are interesting and important, but I do wish more reliable studies were being done in Idaho and Montana because.

    1. Yellowstone terrain and vegetation is different
    2. Yellowstone has more predatory animals and it has several thousand bison, which no other place has.
    3. There is no human hunting in Yellowstone
    4. Idaho wolves seem to be more healthy than anywhere else — no mange, etc.
    5. I don’t think you can trust Idaho Fish and Game because they are completely subservient to politicians. Exhibit number one is the bighorn sheep controversy.

  12. JB Avatar

    “Hidden in the delisting rule at the bottom of page 128, in response to comments, the Department references the March 16, 2007 Solicitor’s Opinion (which interpreted a “significant portion of a species range” as based upon “current” rather than “historic” range). The Department then states the following: “We agree with the interpretation of the Act set forth in the Solicitor’s opinion…”

    Thanks for pointing this out, Ralph. While I am dismayed to see the Obama administration forwarding this interpretation, it illustrates a point I’ve been trying to make regarding why NGOs keep fighting the delisting. The Solicitor’s interpretation is in clear violation of the ESA; it is a cynical attempt to “spin” the law to fit the desires of an anti-ESA administration. Note: I believe wolf populations have recovered to the point where they could be delisted–in fact, I’ve believed this since 2005–but delisting needs to be done right, in accordance with the law. Delisting advocates should know that the interpretation of the “significant portion of its range” phrase put forth by the Solicitor has the potential to negatively impact the conservation and recovery of dozens of species–especially wide-ranging species such as the wolf, jaguar and bison.

    FYI: Looks like our paper beat the delisting rule to press by a few days. You can read our take on the Solicitor’s opinion and its consequences for endangered species here:

    A longer, legal review written by my co-author is expected anytime in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal ( ).

  13. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thank you, JB.
    – – – – – –
    So my personal view is that the wolf population is obviously ready to be delisted, but the states lack adequate regulatory protection for the delisted population. There are a number of other things wrong with the delisting rule which I won’t discuss here in this comment, but now this — an element that weakens the endangered species act for dozens of species, especially for the wide-ranging, large, “charismatic species.”

    The Salazar delisting is what you would expect from the Bush Administration, not the Obama. I have to wonder if the new Secretary is trying to pull a fast one on the distracted President.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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