In the Courts

June 02, 2009

Keeping Wolves Alive: Lawsuit last hope for long-term wolf recovery in Northern Rockies

Suit filed as a last resort

WASHINGTON – Today, Defenders of Wildlife and 12 other conservation groups filed a lawsuit asking the courts to reverse the ill-timed and unwarranted removal of Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Northern Rockies. The lawsuit is a last resort, and only comes after exhausting all other reasonable options.

Regrettably, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar failed to fully consider both scientific and legal inadequacies underlying the Bush administration’s delisting rule before adopting it on April 2, 2009.  The Bush administration delisting rule adopted by Salazar essentially allows over two-thirds of the region’s wolves to be killed before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would even consider stepping back in and restoring protections.

The following is a statement by Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife:

“After working more than 20 years to restore wolves here, it’s a thrill to see the wolf population finally on the threshold of recovery with more than 1600 wolves in the region.  However, we cannot ignore that this delisting plan fails to protect their future and would allow states like Idaho, which has demanded that all wolves be removed ‘by any means necessary,’ to decimate the population to less than a few hundred wolves. We need a delisting plan that allows the wolf population to thrive while addressing the needs and concerns of our regional residents.  

“We had hoped to avoid the need for litigation, but Secretary Salazar’s decision to go forward with the Bush administration’s delisting plan, which allows states to reduce wolf numbers from 1650 (not including pups), to a mere 450 region wide, left us no choice.

“We are going to court in order to ensure that wolves are fully recovered and treated as key components of the Northern Rockies ecosystem – not as token isolated subpopulations maintained at the most minimum levels in national parks and wilderness areas.

“We had expected at this point to be celebrating the recovery of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies. Instead, after decades of recovery efforts, tremendous support and investment from the American public, impressive efforts by federal and state wildlife agencies, and one of the most successful wildlife restorations in history, the future of the gray wolf in the Rocky Mountains is once again in jeopardy.

“We look forward to one day seeing wolves fully recovered and under state management, but both the delisting plan and the state plans currently in place are not adequate to ensure the long-term recovery of wolves.

“Sadly, rather than committing to ensuring the long-term recovery of wolves, Secretary Salazar, like his predecessor in the Bush administration, has forced us again to the courts to reverse a delisting rule that puts us right back where we started – with a wolf population that cannot survive without federal protection.”

Learn more about Defenders' work to ensure the recovery of wolves in the Northern Rockies.


Defenders of Wildlife is represented in this litigation by Earthjustice, along with plaintiffs Natural Resources Defense Council, 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 Hells Canyon Preservation Council.

July 22, 2008

Legal Victory For Wolves

Gray Wolf looking up (Corel) Defenders of Wildlife won a huge legal victory for wolves last week!  Federal District Judge Donald Molloy of Montana issued a preliminary injunction that restores federal Endangered Species act protections to wolves in the Northern Rockies. This ruling is an important first step that will save the lives of hundreds of wolves during the months to come when our challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's delisting decision is heard by the court.  We have much work left to do, but we can all breathe a little bit easier thanks to this decision. 

Read more about this ruling and what it means for wolves.

May 29, 2008

Inside the Courtroom

Today, I was in court while Judge Donnold Molloy heard oral arguments on our motion seeking a preliminary injunction to return legal ESA status to wolves in the northern Rockies while the lawsuit challenging the delisting rule is heard. EarthJustice attorney Doug Honnold and his colleagues Jenny Harbine and Tim Preso presented strong evidence that the injunction was necessary to stop the wolf killings that have been mounting since the March 28, 2008 delisting. 

The federal government, states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife opposed our request with their team of 15 attorneys. The arguments against the injunction included statements that the wolves in Wyoming’s shoot on sight zone (88% of the state) are “bad wolves”, which are not important to population reproduction. 

The judge recessed at lunchtime stating that he will make his decision soon.  Needless to say, the lives of many wolves are at stake. I will be watching closely so we can share any news as soon as it happens.

May 12, 2008

Lawsuit Moves Ahead

A federal judge in Montana rejected a request by the government to delay our lawsuit seeking to place the gray wolf back on the endangered species list. In rejecting the agency's request for a two-week extension in the case, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy set a hearing for May 29 in Missoula. Stay tuned...

April 29, 2008

Fingers Crossed...

Yesterday we - along with 11 other conservation groups -  filed a federal court lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to remove the northern Rockies gray wolf population from the list of endangered species. We also filed a  request for a preliminary injunction in order to reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves until the  court issues a final decision on the merits of this case.

We maintain that wolves should not have been stripped of federal protections so soon because they are not yet recovered in the Northern Rockies region and the state management plans currently in place are woefully inadequate, not based on current science, and do not ensure the long term survival of the Northern Rockies gray wolf.

This is evident by the recent rash of indiscriminate killings that have gone on - most notably in Wyoming's shoot-on-site zone - in the short amount of time that wolves have been without protection. To quote from our injunction papers: "Since delisting, a spate of wolf killings by a variety of methods—pursuing wolves long distances with snowmobiles, shooting wolves from the roadside, and lying in wait for wolves at state-run elk feedgrounds—demonstrates the need now, as much as ever, to protect wolves under the Endangered Species Act."

Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana have all refused to make enforceable commitments to maintain viable  and sustainable wolf populations within their borders. The states have neglected to secure funding for essential monitoring and conservation efforts.

We will keep you updated with any and all developments in this case, and we appreciate all the support that so many people have given during this important case that will decide the future of this iconic species. 

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, 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, and Wildlands Project.

March 13, 2008

Reduced Wolf Protections Take Effect

Many of you may not be aware that wolf management entered a new era on February 28, when a new management rule for gray wolves officially took effect. Issued on January 24, the so-called “10(j)” rule – named for a provision of the federal Endangered Species Act – significantly weakens protections for gray wolves in the northern Rockies from now until wolves are formally delisted.  It is basically a de facto delisting of the wolf.

Under the rule currently in effect, hundreds of wolves can be killed if the states can demonstrate that they are having an “unacceptable impact” on elk, deer and other wild ungulate populations.  Wolves, of course, rely on these species for food. Numbers of wild ungulates are well above population goals in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, and wolves have never been determined to be the primary cause of a population decline.

My team has already filed a lawsuit challenging the new rule, but it is unlikely the court will rule on that case prior to delisting.  Once wolves are removed from the list of endangered species, the rule will no longer apply and states will assume full responsibility for wolf management.  For the next 30 days, I will be watching very closely to see how the 10(j) rule is implemented on the ground and the impact it has on wolves.

February 26, 2008

Protecting Wolves in Court

(…and now a word from our lawyers)

Some people are questioning the necessity of legal action regarding the decision to delist the northern Rockies wolf. I’m here to let you know why I believe it is not only a necessary action, but in fact crucial to the survival of the species in the region.

The return of the wolf in the northern Rockies is one of the Endangered Species Act's (ESA) greatest success stories, but the Bush Administration’s decision to remove the wolf from the list of federally-protected endangered species is premature and threatens to undo all the progress we have made.

I, on behalf of Defenders and along with other conservation groups and numerous scientists, strongly urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to delist the wolf at this time because the current population is inadequate for biological recovery and the states of Wyoming and Idaho particularly have not demonstrated a serious commitment to wolf conservation. The best scientific evidence available tells us that wolves have not yet reached minimum viable population levels that will assure their place in the northern Rockies ecosystem for generations to come.

That’s why, on March 28, 2008, as soon as the delisting decision was published in the Federal Register, Defenders and our partners notified the Bush Administration by letter of our intent to challenge the delisting decision in federal court. Under the citizen-suit provision of the ESA, citizens must give the government 60-days’ notice prior to actually filing a lawsuit. The letter reiterates our opposition to wolf delisting and explains why under federal law wolf delisting is not merely unwise but contrary to law. We will file suit in federal district court as soon as the 60-day waiting period elapses.

Litigation is a tool of last resort but it is also an important safeguard against improper government action. This is not the first time I have been forced to turn to the courts to protect wolves. The Bush Administration tried to reduce wolf protections once before in 2003. Defenders challenged that decision and a federal district court sided with us, ensuring that wolves would continue to enjoy the full protection of the ESA until their recovery is complete.

The restoration of the wolf in the West is simply not complete. To allow the states to reduce wolf populations from the present 1500 to a potential minimum population of a few hundred is folly and abandons wolf recovery. Wolves are simply not ready to lose federal protections, and I am confident that the courts will agree.

Read more about Defenders' work In the Courts with Northern Rockies Wolves and the 10J Rule.


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