New wolf lawsuit seeks status review
by Pacific Legal Foundation press release
February 17, 2011
Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation today filed a federal lawsuit to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct the legally mandated five-year status review of the gray wolf, to determine whether the species continues to warrant listing as "endangered."
Donor-supported PLF is the leading legal watchdog that litigates, pro bono, for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations. In this lawsuit, PLF attorneys represent the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
The gray wolf is known to exist across the continent from Michigan in the midwest, through to Washington State in the West.
The gray wolf has been listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act since 1978, but from that point to the present, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has never conducted a formal scientific review of its status to determine whether continued listing is appropriate.
FWS’ failure to conduct such reviews is in direct violation of the law. The ESA requires the agency to review, every five years, whether a listed species is doing better or worse, and whether it has recovered.
Federal regulators aren’t above the law
"First and foremost, the case we’ve filed today is about the rule of law," said PLF attorney Daniel Himebaugh. "The federal government can be harsh on private property owners when it’s enforcing environmental regulations, so there is simply no excuse for the federal bureaucrats to be ignoring their own legal obligations. The Fish and Wildlife Service is nearly three decades late in performing a status review for the gray wolf. That stalling has to stop – and the bureaucrats have to be reminded that they’re not above the law.
"Second, this case is about the importance of using accurate and up-to-date science in making environmental policy," Himebaugh continued. "Congress explicitly included the status review requirement in the ESA so species would be monitored and policies could be adjusted when needed. These reviews are important for efficient and scientifically credible regulation. They help make sure that resources are focused on species that are genuinely imperiled, and not diverted to species that no longer need protection."
Regulatory decisions must be based on credible, up-to-date science
"It is regrettable that it requires litigation to prod the Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its statutory duties on species review," said Jack Field, executive director of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. "We are bringing this action in order to make sure that the Service is following the law, and is guided by solid science, when it makes regulatory decisions."
The Fish and Wildlife Service is legally required to perform reviews every five years under Section 4(c)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. Section 1533(c)(2), and to determine whether, based on current best available science, a listed species should have its status changed (i.e., either lowered from endangered to threatened or raised from threatened to endangered) or if protections are no longer necessary.
PLF litigates nationwide to force federal regulators to perform their responsibilities under the ESA. Late last year, a lawsuit by PLF attorneys, representing the Washington Cattlemen’s Association and other organizations as plaintiffs, prodded FWS to begin long overdue status reviews of four species in Washington State: the northern spotted owl, Oregon silverspot butterfly, showy stickseed, and Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow.
"Five-year status reviews are essential to give a credible, current assessment of the well-being of species, and to hold government officials accountable for their decisions," said Daniel Himebaugh.
The gray wolf status-review lawsuit is titled, Washington Cattlemen’s Association v. Salazar. It has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington.