GYC outlines wolf case
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
June 23, 2009
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has broken rank with other environmental groups, filing its own lawsuit challenging the removal of federal protection for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies. A group of about a dozen environmental and animal advocacy organizations joined together earlier last month to file a federal case against wolf delisting, using the non-profit law group Earthjustice as its legal counsel.
GYC is represented by the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School in the lawsuit that was also filed in federal court in Montana.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted wolves in Montana and Idaho, federal protection for wolves in Wyoming remains. But the GYC apparently doesn’t think that is good enough. Its federal lawsuit challenges the fact that wolves in Wyoming remain classified as "non-essential, experimental" under the same federal regulations that allowed for wolf reintroduction in the mid-1990s.
The GYC lawsuit states: "FWS’s designation of Wyoming wolves as an ‘experimental’ population violates ESA section 10(j). Experimental status can only be granted to populations that are wholly separate geographically from non-experimental populations. Wyoming wolves are not geographically separated from non-Wyoming wolves. FWS admits this fact in its determination that genetic exchange occurs across the three gray wolf distinct population segment subpopulations."
The GYC lawsuit repeatedly refers to wolves in Wyoming as "endangered." GYC is apparently attempting to get rid of the "experimental" status for wolves in the Northern Rockies. This classification provides for maximum management flexibility, while "endangered" status provides for the most restrictive management provisions.
The GYC lawsuit cites concerns for genetic interchange between wolf populations in the tri-state region, finding fault with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service commitment for managed genetic exchange. The complaint noted that this "reliance on managed genetic exchange violates the Endangered Species Act’s purpose of protecting functioning ecosystems. "Managed genetic exchange" contemplates active human intervention in the gray wolf ecosystem. The ESA’s purpose is to conserve, not intervene upon, the "ecosystem upon which endangered species and threatened species depend."
Secondly, GYC asserts that FWS arbitrarily failed to adequately assess regulatory mechanisms to achieve genetic connectivity, also a violation of the ESA. The complaint noted "FWS failed to meaningfully assess whether regulatory mechanisms in Montana and Idaho are adequate to achieve and maintain genetic connectivity as required by the northern Rockies gray wolf recovery goals."
GYC asserted: "FWS’s determination that the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population is not threatened by current or foreseeable lack of genetic exchange due to inadequate regulatory mechanisms is arbitrary, capricious, and not based upon the best available scientific information in violation of the ESA."
The GYC case also finds legal fault with the FWS decision to designate wolves in the Montana, Idaho and Wyoming region as a "distinct population segment," yet delisting wolves within a portion of that DPS area, while retaining protection for wolves in Wyoming.
The GYC complaint refers to the FWS failure to consider loss of historic range in its delisting action. The complaint stated: "Before designating and delisting the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf DPS, the ESA requires FWS determine whether the DPS is endangered or threatened due to ‘destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.’Identifying and evaluating threats to gray wolves’ historic range is essential for conserving the ecosystem upon which the species depends. FWS arbitrarily decided not to evaluate threats to gray wolves’ historic range. Instead, the agency asserted ‘most historic wolf habitat in the contiguous United States has been so modified by people that it is currently unsuitable for wolves.’ However true this statement may be, FWS must assess how these modifications to the wolves’ historic range impact the status of the species before removing the DPS from the list of endangered species."
The GYC lawsuit requests the court throw out the wolf delisting rule "and issue an injunction reinstating ESA protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies."
For more on this case, click on the link below to read the GYC complaint.