Wolf Fight Heads Back to Court

NRDC Joins Legal Action to Challenge the Department of Interior's Decision to Remove Northern Rocky Mountain Wolves From Endangered Species List

LIVINGSTON, Mont. (June 2, 2009) – Another chapter in the legal battle over wolves was opened today when the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a coalition of concerned conservation groups challenged the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove protections for packs in Montana and Idaho. NRDC has long-advocated for a national wolf recovery plan based on the most current science. Most of the recent scientific analysis points to the need for a larger population of animals with natural genetic interchange between packs in the region. These benchmarks are likely unattainable under the states’ wolf management plans.

“This suit is about ensuring a successful ending to one of the greatest of all conservation stories," said Louisa Willcox, Director of NRDC’s office in Livingston, Montana. “Sustainable recovery for wolves in the Northern Rockies is tantalizingly close---but we are not there yet. We look forward to a time when wolves can be taken off the list; but sadly, state-sponsored hunts are only going to push that finish line further away. Until the wolf population in the Northern Rockies reaches a sustainable level, this fight will continue.”

When the Bush Administration removed protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies last year, it resulted in the death of over 100 wolves in as many days. In the past, the State of Idaho has proposed killing 120 wolves in one area, the Clearwater, and has proposed killing an additional 26 packs in the state. NRDC experts maintain that such actions would reverse the enormous progress to date on wolf recovery in the region.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) chose to retain legal protections for wolves in Wyoming due to the inadequacy of the state’s management plan, while allowing hunts that are likely to kill hundreds of wolves in Idaho and Montana. According to NRDC, 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.”

“While we certainly agree that Wyoming’s plan remains unacceptable, it just doesn’t make any sense for protections to start and stop at state lines," said Dr. Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC staff scientist, whose genetic expertise was central in the federal court challenge environmentalists won against the previous effort to remove wolf protections. “The need for genetic interchange between the packs makes this all the more unworkable while undermining the wolf’s long-term survival.”

The suit was 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.

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 by 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.

“This situation is a mess. The government not only managed to find a solution that is illegal, but it also fails to meet the needs of wolves or people in the region,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of NRDC’s Wildlife Conservation Project. “Let’s find a real, long-term solution to this problem that takes into account the needs on both sides. That requires serious recovery goals based on the latest science. It’s a common sense approach and it will prevent the fate of wolves from bouncing around the courts once and for all.”

Check the Switchboard blog for commentary from NRDC’s science and legal teams at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/

Broadcast quality wolf video is available to members of the media at http://nrdc.mediaseed.tv/