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Court reinstates federal protections for gray wolvesCourt reinstates federal protections for gray wolves

Agricultural groups say decision offers additional support for Congress to modernize Endangered Species Act.

Jacqui Fatka

August 2, 2017

3 Min Read
Court reinstates federal protections for gray wolves
USFWS: Photo by MacNeil Lyons, National Park Service

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that vacated a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) rule to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The ruling maintains federal protections for wolves and blocks the states from asserting control and opening up sport hunting and commercial trapping seasons targeting the animals.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the ruling “defies common sense” as there is a thriving population of 4,000 gray wolves that threatens farmers and ranchers in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“The court handed down this opinion despite an abundance of scientific and commercial data showing no material threat to the wolf population,” Duvall said. “Neither the goals outlined in various recovery plans nor the aggressive and successful leadership to save the wolves in affected states moved the court to do the right thing.”

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and a coalition of wildlife protection groups, including Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live and Friends of Animals & Their Environment, brought the lawsuit against FWS’s December 2011 delisting decision.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at HSUS, said, “A federal appeals court has recognized that the basis for the delisting decision was flawed. Congress should respect the ruling relating to the management of wolves in the Great Lakes and allow the Fish & Wildlife Service to re-examine the broader conservation questions raised by the courts.”

In its ruling, the court chided FWS for taking a piecemeal approach to wolf recovery and “call(ing) it quits” too early. The court noted that “when a species is already listed, the service cannot review a single segment with blinders on, ignoring the continuing (imperilment) status of the species’ remnant.”

Agricultural groups said the ruling provides more reasons for Congress to modernize the ESA.

Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. federal lands, said rather than celebrating the successful recovery of the species, “Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin will continue to be held hostage to the whims of radical environmental activists.”

Lane added, “It is now incumbent upon Congress to take action to carry out the proper delisting of the gray wolf and modernize the Endangered Species Act so that it works for every American, not just well-funded, judicial activists.”

The Senate Environment & Public Works Committee passed out of committee last week a bipartisan bill that puts an end to the ESA listing of the gray wolf in Wyoming and the Great Lakes, which committee chairman John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) explained will free up FWS "to redirect resources that were being spent on the already fully recovered gray wolf to other species that are truly in need.”

In July the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on five bills that would amend the ESA. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) testified on his bill, the State, Tribal & Local Species Transparency & Recovery Act, which would amend the ESA to require the federal government to disclose to affected states all data used prior to any ESA listing decisions and would require that the “best available scientific and commercial data” used by the federal government include information provided by affected states, tribes and local governments. His bill passed in the 113th Congress, and he reintroduced the bill in March 2017.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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