SUBLETTE COUNTY – Wyoming manages and monitors its recovered and delisted gray wolves through agreements made with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Congress finally delisted this Northern Rockies’ population after several attempts by Wyoming and FWS officials to enact state management for the “recovered” gray wolves were beset with court lawsuits.
In a very different scenario, the FWS’s most recent nationwide wolf delisting final rule took effect on Jan. 3, leaving until-then “endangered” gray wolf packs, loners and corridors outside the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes unprotected.
Until Jan. 3, those wolves were still protected under the Endangered Species Act. But FWS published its decision removing all gray wolves from ESA protections.
Without any protections, these gray wolves would not be properly monitored or protected, some groups claim.
FWS says it will focus on monitoring wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and evaluating that data is meant to “effectively monitor the status of the species,” says their lawsuit filed Jan. 14. “The FWS will not conduct any post-delisting monitoring of the species outside of those three states.”
The wildlife coalition is challenging the recent nationwide wolf delisting, calling it “premature.”
The coalition – WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and smaller nonprofits in the Northwest – filed its complaint in U.S. District Court for Northern California, calling for the rule to be remanded and an injunction imposed against delisting.
“In the final rule, FWS concludes that ‘gray wolves in the lower 48 states (excepting the Mexican wolf) are recovered,’” it says.
The coalition submitted timely comments against the delisting rule and gave notice of its intent to sue FWS in court. The groups are Cascadia Wildlands, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Wildlands Network, The Lands Council and Wildlands Network.
ESA violations claimed
The FWS rule says that wolves appearing and settling elsewhere will eventually fill in all of the species’ historic territory as part of the Northern Rocky Mountains’ “distinct population segment,” which the FWS has redefined.
“In the final rule, (FWS) erroneously attempts to expand the geographic boundaries of a Congressionally created and Congressionally delisted (Northern Rocky Mountains DPS) in an effort to avoid its ESA obligations to recover gray wolves throughout their historic and current ranges,” the lawsuit says.
Since the early 2000s, individual gray wolf sightings are confirmed in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada, it continues.
“Although gray wolves are starting to make a comeback in select areas of the United States, the species has yet to achieve self-sustaining populations in much of their historic habitat across vast portions of the American West, including in the Pacific Northwest region (including Oregon, Washington and California) and the Southern and/or Central Rocky Mountains region … of Colorado, Utah, Nevada and northern New Mexico).”
Also, the ESA requires FWS to consider a species’ status across a “significant portion of its range” – “The FWS cannot interpret the phrase ‘significant portion of its range’ in a way that wholly excludes analysis of the species’ historical range.”
Also, FWS should not use a wolf population’s health in one area “while ignoring threats in areas where the population is either extirpated or home to only a few individuals.”
FWS ignores available suitable habitat in many states, failing to consider the importance of connectivity corridors and new habitats, the suit says.
The FWS’ 2019 proposed rule and its 2020 final rule have “significant” changes and the public did not have enough time to study and comment on it, the coalition says.
“FWS did not provide the public, nor peer reviewers of its 2019 proposed rule, adequate notice and an opportunity to comment on the revised approach of the final rule and significant new biological and policy information included within.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to “declare FWS has violated and continues to violate the law as alleged above.” The final rule does not comply with the Endangered Species Act or the Administrative Procedures Act and should be remanded and rewritten, it says, and if necessary a temporary or permanent injunction should be imposed.