For Immediate Release: December 18, 2005
Contact: Michael Robinson, 505-534-0360
GOVERNMENT WILL NOT APPEAL RULING THAT UPHELD PROTECTIONS FOR GRAY WOLVES
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Friday that it would not appeal a federal court ruling that overturned the agency’s attempted gerrymandering of gray wolf ranges. The decision leaves intact significant protections for wolves throughout their U.S. range.
On January 31, 2005, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones enjoined and vacated the April 1, 2003 Fish and Wildlife Service national wolf reclassification rule that had divided all gray wolf historic range in the contiguous 48 states into three huge Distinct Population Segments, downlisted wolves in most of the West and East from ”endangered” to “threatened” and precipitated a recovery planning process for wolves in the Southwest, parts of the southern Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau without consideration of the Mexican gray wolf's unique status as a locally evolved subspecies.
The plaintiffs were 19 conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife (Civil case No. 03-1348-JO).
Friday’s decision means that Mexican gray wolves cannot be delisted without establishment of wolf populations in broader areas in the Southwest. The Fish and Wildlife Service has banned the Mexican wolf from the Sky Islands ecosystem in which it evolved and had sought to release Mexican wolves into regions far from their historic range where political opposition would be lower.
The court’s ruling and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision also bode well for recovery of gray wolves in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Grand Canyon ecoregion and adjoining Utah’s canyon country, and the Pacific Northwest.
The decision means that wolves will continue to be governed by a 1978 federal regulation that guaranteed consideration of biological subspecies (such as the Mexican wolf) in recovery planning. That regulation had been replaced by the April 1, 2003 rule that was struck down.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity described the ruling and Friday’s announcement as the triumph of science over politics. “Interior Secretary Gale Norton tried to gerrymander the entire contiguous 48 states so that wolves in a few areas would make up for the absence of wolves in much larger regions,” Robinson explained.
“It appears the Interior Department has finally read the plain meaning of the Endangered Species Act correctly. Now, instead of drawing lines on the map based on political considerations,” he said, “any future lines must be based on science.”Even before the January 31, 2005 federal court ruling, the Fish and Wildlife Service cancelled its planned January meeting of the Southwest Gray Wolf Recovery Team that had been meeting for two years. The team has not yet been reconvened, and the FWS has blamed the court ruling for its suspension of the recovery team, even though the federal agency has full authority to develop a Mexican wolf recovery plan that recognizes the Mexican wolf’s status as an endangered subspecies.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service should re-convene a recovery team for the Mexican gray wolf,” said Robinson, who served on the now-defunct Southwest recovery team. “The Mexican wolf cannot be considered recovered while occupying only one patch of habitat. The lobo should be allowed to occupy the Sky Islands Range and Mexico, where it evolved.”
The Sky Islands consist of isolated mountains in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico rising out of a desert “ocean.” They include such well known mountains ranges as the Chiricahuas, Peloncillos and Pinalenos (Mount Graham).
The conservationists were represented in the litigation by the firm of Faegre and Benson in Minneapolis, MN. Chief counsel was Brian B. O'Neill, assisted by Anne E. Mahle, Elizabeth H. Schmiesing, Richard A. Duncan and Colette Routel.