Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., sent a clear message to the state of Wyoming reiterating who’s really in charge of species protection.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson put Wyoming wolves back under federal protection, despite Wyoming’s recent wolf management plan that declared wolves unprotected.
Berman’s ruling sided with national environmental groups that had argued Wyoming’s management plan afforded insufficient protection for what they still consider an endangered species.
“We’re thrilled that protections for Wyoming’s fragile population of wolves have been restored,” said Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “With Wyoming allowing wolves to be shot on sight across more than 80 percent of the state, there is no way protections for wolves should have ever been removed.”
According to Berman, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had no rights when allowing the state’s plan to maintain at least 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs, outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead quickly expressed his concerns with the ruling, following review of the 40-page document.
“There are many positives in Judge Jackson’s decision. However, she held that Wyoming’s plan was not sufficiently formalized to support the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 rule allowing limited take of gray wolves. We believe an emergency rule can remedy this, and I have instructed the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the Attorney General to proceed accordingly.”
Mead signed and filed an emergency rule following the decision, establishing that Wyoming’s commitment under its management plan is legally enforceable. The emergency rule has the full force and effect of law immediately and is effective for 120 days or 240 if extended by the governor.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission initiated the formal rulemaking process set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act that will make this emergency rule permanent. The commission expects to complete the process in November.
The Attorney General also filed a motion with the U.S. District Court today asking the court to recognize that Wyoming’s management commitments are legally enforceable.
“Now that Wyoming has resolved the court’s concern, I hope the court will amend its ruling and allow Wyoming’s continued management of gray wolves,” Gov. Mead said.
In April, Mead shared the Wyoming Game and Fish Department report reflecting that the population and number of breeding pairs is stable, more wolves are now being monitored, and confirmed livestock depredations are down—all under state management.
The report stated that Wyoming was home to 306 wolves in at least 43 packs, including more than 23 breeding pairs, at the end of 2013.
“This confirms that Wyoming is in the best position to manage its wildlife, including sensitive and highprofile species like wolves,” the governor said. “Wyoming’s wolf population has been over the target number established for taking wolves off of the endangered species list for 12 consecutive years. It was appropriate for wolf management to return to Wyoming. Wyoming continues to play a leading role in managing various species in such a way that they flourish and do not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
Governor Mead negotiated a plan for delisting wolves with former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and wolves were returned to state management in September 2012. The report shows the population of wolves in Wyoming increased slightly between 2012 and 2013 and the number of breeding pairs stayed the same.
“Governor Mead fought hard to ensure delisting occurred and wolf management transferred to the state. He knew that we had a sound plan for wolf management. I believe we have implemented that plan responsibly and these numbers support that position,” Director of the Game and Fish Department Scott Talbott said in April.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association had also joined the Washington, D.C., lawsuit along with other groups, to argue for keeping wolf management under state control.
“I guess what bothers me most is this shows a total lack of confidence in the state’s ability to manage its wildlife, including a viable and delisted wolf population,” said Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President at the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
Magagna did add that his perspective had become a little more optimistic after reading the judge’s report, and the filing of the emergency order. The judge’s main concern appeared to center around the lack of an appropriate buffer number for the population, and the method in which the agreement was made. “It was more of a handshake,” Magagna said.
He’s hopeful that the emergency order will solve the problem, and the judge will reverse her decision. But in the meantime, the wolves are back to their original protected state. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor