Posted on August 4, 2011 by Bob BerwynCongress evades Endangered Species Act; Federal judge calls Wyoming wolf deal an act of political appeasement and says it undermines the rule of law
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Predator conservation in the West took a step backward this week, as the Obama administration and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead finalized an agreement that could permit the aerial slaughter of hundreds of wolves.
The deal was spurred by an act of Congress last April, when western Republicans attached a rider to a budget bill that removed Endangered Species Act protection for wolves in the northern Rockies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the revisions to the state’s management plan for the gray wolf will promote the management of a stable, sustainable population of wolves and pave the way for the Service to return wolf management to Wyoming. All federal documents relating to the Northern Rockies wolf recovery program are online here.
Conservation groups challenged the the constitutionality of the measure in federal court, but on Aug. 3 U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy reluctantly rejected the lawsuit, effectively finalizing the Republican end run around the Endangered Species Act.
Molloy said he was bound by precedent but condemned congressional infringement on the judiciary.
“If I were not constrained by what I believe is binding precedent from the Ninth Circuit, and on-point precedent from other circuits, I would hold Section 1713 is unconstitutional because it violates the Separation of Powers doctrine … ,” U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote in his decision. He described the rider as “a tearing away, an undermining, and a disrespect for the fundamental idea of the rule of law.”
The decision marked the first time that Congress, rather than scientists, took a plant or animal off the endangered species list.
Molloy expressed his distaste for Congress’s overreaching by explaining that the Endangered Species Act “protects imperiled species, without regard to the popularity of the animal or plant. It does not just protect species when politically convenient … [The rider] sacrifices the spirit of the ESA to appease a vocal political faction, but the wisdom of that choice is not now before this Court.”
The decision means that hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana that are designed to drastically reduce wolf populations will move forward. It also leaves fledgling wolf populations in eastern Oregon and Washington and northern Utah without protection.
According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the deal will ensure healthy wolf populations in the northern Rockies.
“The recovery of the gray wolf serves as a great example of how the Endangered Species Act can work to keep imperiled animals from sliding into extinction. The agreement we’ve reached with Wyoming recognizes the success of this iconic species and will ensure the long-term conservation of gray wolves,” said Secretary Salazar. “I look forward to working with Wyoming to implement this responsible management approach guided by science.”
“Today’s decision means that hundreds of wolves that need protection won’t get it,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Although wolf numbers have risen, the job of wolf recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains is far from complete.”
But federal biologists say they consider the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population to be biologically recovered, with more than 1,650 wolves and over 110 breeding pairs.
The program has exceeded recovery goals for 11 consecutive years, and wolves fully occupy nearly all suitable habitat with high levels of genetic diversity and gene flow within the region’s meta-population structure. Under state management, the Service expects the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population will be maintained above recovery levels and no longer faces a risk of extinction, the USFWS said in a press release.
“Along with the killing of wolves that were recently delisted via congressional rider in Idaho and Montana, delisting and persecution of wolves in Wyoming bodes poorly for the species’ long-term survival throughout the northern Rocky Mountains. It will also inhibit recovery in Colorado, where wolves are only starting to return by way of Wyoming,” Suckling said in a previous press release.
“Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s blithe reassurances that wolves will not decline toward extinction cannot be counted on, because the House of Representatives has approved another rider to insulate this upcoming delisting from judicial review. We ask the Senate to strike that rider from the Interior funding bill,” he added.
“If killing two-thirds of Wyoming’s non-park-inhabiting wolves truly will not threaten them with extinction, there is no need to pass a rider that would permit this delisting to evade the Endangered Species Act’s science-based standards.”
About 300 wolves are thought to live outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming. The agreement will allow their unregulated killing throughout most of the state, excluding the northwestern corner, where hunting permits for wolves will be issued. Most wolf killing will probably take place via federal aerial gunning of radio-collared wolves, always preceded by the shooting of their uncollared family members, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.