California wolf legal challenge
by Pacific Legal Foundation
February 1, 2017
The California Fish and Game Commission has neglected sound scientific analysis, undermined sensible wildlife protections — and violated state law — by unjustifiably adding the gray wolf to the state’s list of "endangered" species.So argues a lawsuit filed by Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the California Farm Bureau Federation. Filed in California Superior Court, the lawsuit challenges the commission’s listing of the gray wolf under the California Endangered Species Act. The listing took effect on January 1, 2017, a little over a year after a divided commission approved it on a controversial 3-1 vote.
The lawsuit challenges the gray wolf listing as illegal on three grounds:
1) The listing is based on flimsy evidence. The listing process was triggered by a single wolf crossing the Oregon border in 2011 — and that wolf has since wandered out of California. Never before has a listing been initiated by a single animal’s occasional wanderings into the state. This is why the state Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended against listing.
2) Regulators undercounted the gray wolf’s numbers. In violation of the California ESA, the commission looked only at the wolf’s numbers in California, ignoring healthy wolf populations elsewhere. Indeed, the wolf’s overall status has improved to the point that the federal government is moving toward removing the species from its own "endangered" list.
3) The gray wolf is not covered by the law. The California ESA is limited to native species and subspecies. Yet the gray wolves addressed by this listing are originally from Canada; they represent a subspecies that was never historically present in California.
"The Fish and Game Commission took a big bite out of its own credibility with this unjustified listing," said PLF Principal Attorney Damien Schiff. "The agency managed to label the gray wolf as ‘endangered’ only by myopically and illegally ignoring its populations outside California.
"Moreover, the listing is destructive as a matter of public policy," Schiff continued. "To begin with, it creates dangers for Northern California ranchers, farmers, and their local economies. If gray wolves begin to establish themselves after a long absence from California, regulators should be working with landowners on balanced policies that can protect sheep, cattle, and people with minimal harm to wolves. Instead, the rigid regulations under an ‘endangered’ listing hamstring property owners and make cooperative solutions impossible.
"Gray wolves were already protected as a ‘non-game mammal,’ an arrangement that allowed flexible control," he added. "In contrast, the ‘endangered’ listing makes it next to impossible for landowners to get permits even to physically remove a wolf that is threatening their animals. Even state officials would run into red tape if they were to try to capture or kill a wolf.
"Finally, this listing means California wildlife could end up as wolf prey," Schiff said. "It is ironic, and outrageous, that by wrongly moving to safeguard a non-native wolf species, the state is endangering animals that are native to the state and that regulators should be protecting."
The listing harms members of both Farm Bureau and CCA The California Cattlemen’s Association is a nonprofit trade organization representing California’s ranchers and beef producers in policy matters. CCA has 34 county affiliates and over 2,400 members, including more than 1,700 cattle producers. California Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest farm organization, composed of 53 county farm bureaus representing more than 48,000 agricultural, associate, and collegiate members in 56 counties.
The listing harms members of both organizations, because of the obstacles it creates to reasonable measures to ward off wolf attacks. Indeed, as the state Department of Fish and Wildlife recently reported, "there is a reasonable concern over predictable depredation of domestic animals, primarily livestock, by wolves as the population expands;" therefore, "economic impacts of gray wolves to individual [livestock] producers could be significant."
Both CCA and Farm Bureau contend there are better ways to protect the wolf while protecting people’s livelihoods and local economics. For instance, they have both been participants in the Stakeholder Working Group, established by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to produce a California Wolf Management Plan. The wolf’s listing will undercut these efforts and forecloses various livestock protection measures that the organizations might have otherwise pursued.
Dave Daley, CCA president and a Butte County cattleman, said this lawsuit is necessary for ranchers to ensure the humane treatment of their livestock. "Under California law, you can’t even pursue a species that is listed as endangered," Daley noted. "If a rancher sees a wolf attacking one of his or her calves, he or she can’t even chase the wolf away without breaking the law. Ranchers are not seeking open season on wolves, we just want sensible wolf management that also allows us to protect our livestock. That will require delisting the gray wolf."
Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said Farm Bureau "wants to see real opportunities to manage wolves for the protection of both wild and domestic animals. The Fish and Game Commission not only exceeded its authority by listing the gray wolf, it restricted the opportunity for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage the species in an effective way. The wolves’ return to California shows they are expanding their territory. The California Endangered Species Act was meant to protect species with declining populations — the exact opposite of what’s happening with wolves."
"The gray wolf listing amounts to bad science, bad policy, and bad law," added PLF Principal Attorney Damien Schiff. "California bureaucrats managed to label the gray wolf as ‘endangered’ only by ignoring the wolf’s populations outside California. This deliberate undercounting is more than irresponsible, it’s flat-out illegal."
The case is California Cattlemen’s Association v. California Fish and Game Commission.