How a ruling on gray wolves could impact grizzlies

A precedent-setting decision on endangered species recovery echoes East to West.

 

This article was originally published by the HuffPost, and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A federal appeals court chose on Tuesday to keep in place Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region — a decision that could also have implications for Yellowstone grizzly bears and other wildlife.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court’s 2014 ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted prematurely when it removed protections for wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The federal agency “failed to reasonably analyze or consider” the impacts of its decision on the greater population of gray wolves, the appeals court said.

Gray wolves have many different protection statuses over the U.S. In Wyoming, they were recently delisted in most of the state.
Anders Illum/Flickr

“The Service’s power is to designate genuinely discrete population segments; it is not to delist an already-protected species by balkanization,” the court ruled. “The Service cannot circumvent the Endangered Species Act’s explicit delisting standards by riving an existing listing into a recovered sub-group and a leftover group that becomes an orphan to the law.”

The decision blocks those three states from allowing limited hunting of the wolves. In 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule that removed Endangered Species Act protections for the Great Lakes wolves, which at the time had a population of around 4,400. Two years later, the Humane Society of the United States sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and its parent agency, the Interior Department, over the decision. A federal trial court sided with the nonprofit the following year, which meant the wolves went back on the protected list.

Ralph Henry, director of litigation at the Humane Society, said that the government had succumbed to political pressures, rushed a rule and took too narrow a focus. “We want species to come off the list,” Henry told HuffPost. “But we want them to come off the list because they are recovered.” 

The D.C. Circuit’s decision sets a valuable precedent, he said, and will likely have implications for other imperiled species. “I think this ruling is going to stand in the way of the Fish and Wildlife Service dealing with species recovery in a piecemeal fashion,” he said. The Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

In June, the Interior Department announced that after four decades on the Endangered Species Act list, the population of grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park has recovered to the point that they no longer require protection. The federal listing was lifted on Monday, with the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho taking over management of the approximately 700 bears in the Yellowstone area. A group of conservation nonprofits and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe plan to sue the Trump administration, arguing this latest decision ignores the best available science and violates the Endangered Species Act. 

By ending protections for Yellowstone grizzlies, the Fish and Wildlife Service has “created a legal orphan status for grizzly bears outside the delisted area,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a release Tuesday. “Wolves and grizzlies are symbols of America’s wild places,” Noah Greenwald, the center’s endangered species program director, said in the statement. “We’re lucky the Endangered Species Act requires us to restore these magnificent animals and not declare victory when just one small population is stabilized.”

Among the numerous endangered species-related bills currently being considered by Congress are a pair of proposals that would strip protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region by requiring the Interior Department to reissue the 2011 rule.

“Congress should respect the ruling relating to the management of wolves in the Great Lakes and allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to re-examine the broader conservation questions raised by the courts,” Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at the Humane Society of the United States, said Tuesday in a statement.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • AMAZING PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    If you're an amazing Program or Education Manager looking for an exciting and fulfilling position with an organization that makes a difference in the community,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • SOCIETY FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP BOARD MEMBER
    Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.
  • NEW MEXICO BIRDER'S PARADISE.
    Fully furnished 2B/2B home near Bosque del Apache NWR, great for nature lovers.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • PERU: WEAVING WORDS & WOMEN ADVENTURE
    April 2020. A 13-day women-only immersion into the culture of Peru led by Page Lambert and True Nature Journeys. Includes Machu Picchu. Graduate credit available...