Wyoming files suit over Wolf Plan
October 16, 2006
(Cheyenne) Wyoming officials filed suit against the federal government last week, arguing that the rejection of the state's wolf delisting petition was based on political considerations and not science.
The suit also challenges the US Fish and Wildlife Service's failure to act on Wyoming's request to modify the rules the service uses to manage wolves currently and prior to delisting.
As of late September, the Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that there are 309 wolves in Wyoming, three times the total estimated recovered wolf population of 100 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming combined that was contemplated when the reintroduction program began.
Under Wyoming's plan, wolves are fully protected in the national parks. Upon delisting, wolves would never be lawfully taken in this area, which encompasses nearly 4,000 square miles of Wyoming. Wolves would be classified as "trophy game animals", meaning their taking would be actively managed to maintain viable population numbers, in the wilderness areas contiguous to the parks (Absaroka-Beartooth, North Absaroka, Washakie, Teton, Jedediah Smith and Gros Ventre). Those wilderness areas comprise another 3,200 square miles.
"The wolf management plan adopted by state agencies and the Wyoming Legislature has solid science behind it," said Gov. Dave Freudenthal. "It's unfortunate that we have to go to court to see that fact get the weight it deserves, but we have not been left a choice by the federal government's top-down approach. I have every confidence that the rejection will be overturned once we get Wyoming's plan and arguments heard on their merits."
"The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to even consider a request to modify existing management rules requested more than a year ago, despite federal law that requires such petitions be decided 'promptly,'" Freudenthal continued. "These rule revisions would give Wyoming immediate help in staving off the real damage a severe overpopulation of wolves is causing to our wildlife populations and agricultural producers. The failure to take any action to address the damage they know is occurring is deplorable."
In September 2003, the US Fish and Wildlife Service submitted the Wyoming plan for independent peer review by scientists. Ten of the 11 peer reviewers found that Wyoming's management plan, in combination with the Idaho and Montana plans, would lead to a sustainable population of gray wolves in the Rocky Mountain area.
In January 2004, the federal government rejected Wyoming's plan. A few days later, a Department of Interior official testified before the Wyoming Legislature's Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee that, "from a strictly science perspective," Wyoming's plan was adequate, adding that it was the "legal considerations that prompt us to say no at this time."
A few months later, the state of Wyoming filed suit asking for a judicial review of the federal decision and alleging that it was based on political considerations and fear of lawsuits by environmental groups, not the "best science" mandate of the Endangered Species Act. US District Judge Alan Johnson said the rejection did not constitute a "final agency action," thereby depriving the federal court of the ability to review the Fish and Wildlife Service decision on its merits.
No court has yet addressed the merits of Wyoming's arguments that the wolf management plan was rejected illegally. The suit filed Tuesday will finally result in such a review.