Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Unmitigated Travesty: Goodbye Wolves

Judge upholds congressional action removing wolves from endangered list


A judge has ruled in favor of the federal government, saying precedent required him to uphold legislation lifting endangered species protection for wolves. The ruling will allow hunts in at least two states to go as planned this year.
clearpxl U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in his opinion issued Wednesday that he would have declared the legislation unconstitutional if it were not for "binding precedent[s]" from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and other courts.
Ruling from Montana, where 220 wolves will be hunted this fall according to a state quota, Molloy said, "The law protects imperiled species, without regard to the popularity of the animal or plant." He added that the measure passed by Congress "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 Center for Biological Diversity and other groups had argued that Congress violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches when it passed legislation delisting gray wolves. Congress, they pointed out, only has authority to amend laws such as the Endangered Species Act, and not previous rulings from the court. In addition, it was the first time lawmakers, and not scientists, removed an animal or plant  from the list.
Without tackling the issue of whether wolves had recovered fully to be hunted, government lawyers had said lawmakers did not overstep their authority since they merely amended the law with respect to a 2009 ruling from the Fish and Wildlife Service that wolves had recovered enough in the Northern Rockies, except in Wyoming.
Molloy said in his ruling, "In this case defendants argue—unpersuasively—that Congress balanced the conflicting public interests and policies to resolve a difficult issue. I do not see what Congress did in the same light. Inserting environmental policy changes into appropriations bills may be politically expedient, but it transgresses the process envisioned by the Constitution... Nonetheless, the case law requires me to adopt the latter interpretation."
The Interior Department removed wolves from the endangered species list after the Republican-held House passed a bill, authored by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), in April.
The measure was one of a number of smaller, unrelated bills attached to the 2011 defense budget approved amid intense partisanship and after several stopgap measures were passed to fund government operations. The so called "rider" bill was in response to a court ruling last year relisting wolves as endangered.
The legislation covers wolves in Idaho, Montana, and portions of Oregon, Washington and Utah. Under the Interior Department's final rule, the five states can hunt the animal and cull whole packs to prevent attacks on livestock and elks.
Under the law, wolves in Wyoming remain under the federal protection of the Endangered Species Act. However, officials have announced the transfer of 200 wolves, or two-thirds of the population living outside Yellowstone National Park, from federal to state control. The management plan means only 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside of Yellowstone will be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The announcement, made the same day as Molloy's ruling, was condemned by conservationists.
“It was this attitude that led wolves to become endangered in the first place," Suzanne Stone, spokesperson for the Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.
"Granting wolves a reprieve in only a small part of the state could severely limit their natural dispersal to prime wolf habitat in surrounding areas," Stone added. "And sanctioning aerial gunning and the killing of pregnant females and newborn pups is not only a clear violation of fair-chase hunting ethics, but also a drastic and unwarranted step that could seriously harm the long-term viability of the population."
Wolves in the Northern Rockies were listed as endangered in 1974 after the animals were nearly wiped out in the lower 48 states.
The animals were re-introduced two decades later in southern Montana, central Idaho and in Yellowstone National Park as part of a federal recovery plan.
The Fish and Wildlife Service believes recovery levels were reached by 2002, and it removed wolves from the endangered list in 2009.
But a court ruled last year that the agency had illegally delisted the animals in Idaho and Montana but not in Wyoming, forcing the government to put the animals back in the list. The ruling also prompted Idaho and Montana to seek control of wolves in their jurisdiction to protect livestock and industries such as hunting, tourism and outfitting.
In its announcement on Wednesday, the Interior Department assured, "The Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is biologically recovered, with more than 1,650 wolves and over 110 breeding pairs. It has exceeded recovery goals for 11 consecutive years, fully occupies nearly all suitable habitat, and has high levels of genetic diversity and gene flow within the region’s meta-population structure. "