Court of Appeals upholds Wyoming’s wolf management plan
On March 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld Wyoming’s wolf management plan with a 3-0 decision.
“I am pleased with the ruling. The Court recognized Wyoming’s Wolf Management Plan was appropriate. We look forward to state management once the 2012 delisting rule is formally reinstated,” says Gov. Matt Mead. “I thank everyone who has worked so hard for the recovery and delisting of wolves. This is the right decision for wolves and Wyoming.”
With the opinion, the Court concluded that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) did not act arbitrarily when it determined Wyoming’s Wolf Management Plan was sufficient to maintain a recovered wolf population upon delisting.
Despite the decision in favor of Wyoming, Tyler Abbott of FWS’ Wyoming Ecological Services Field Office says, “Wolves still have their listed ESA protections right now.”
With the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Abbott explains, “The Court’s rules are that they will provide the opportunity for Plaintiffs to file a petition for review.”
“The courts provide a 45-day window of time that the Plaintiffs can file a petition,” he continues. “Then, the court has seven days to respond to that petition. They could file tomorrow, or they could file at the very end of the part.”
In the petition for review, Abbott explains that the Plaintiffs can choose to file for review of the full decision or specific aspects of that decision.
“The fact that it was a unanimous decision means that Wyoming prevailed on all three aspects of the original case, but my understanding is that the Plaintiffs could ask for a review of any specific aspect or the whole thing,” Abbott emphasized. “Until a final response is made by the court, the wolves will be listed as endangered.”
Path to state management
However, after final review by the Court, if Wyoming still prevails, the transition to state management could occur quickly.
“Historically, FWS has issued very brief Federal Register notifications of the decision and the fact that management would be turned over,” Abbott describes. “It’s likely that we would do that.”
He comments, “As soon as the court decision is made, management would be quickly turned over to the state.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and FWS are working hand-in-hand currently to ensure the management transfer happens smoothly.
“The important point right now is that nothing has changed in terms of the wolves’ status,” Abbott emphasizes. “We are still in a holding pattern.”
Any concerns with wolves or livestock depredation will be handled as it has been over the past several years.
“If livestock depredations start, we will work with producers to evaluate the course of action,” he says.
As for the ruling, Abbott comments, “This is a complete success from a legal standpoint, to have a panel of judges rule unanimously on all three points in our favor. It says a lot in terms of the strength of our appeal.”
Ag groups comment
“We are very pleased with the ruling,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau’s Ken Hamilton. “I also think that it is important that Rep. Liz Cheney continue to push her wolf delisting bill.”
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s (WSGA) Jim Magagna agrees, saying, “We were thrilled with the ruling. This basically affirmed that everything is right with the Wyoming wolf management plan and the way it is being implemented and adopted.”
Magagna adds that currently, WSGA and others in Wyoming are waiting for more information on the process to fully return management authority to the state.
“It is just as important as it ever was for Rep. Cheney’s bill to pass,” Magagna continues. “The only way we can bring certainty and conclusion to this issue is to successfully pass legislation delisting the wolf in Wyoming.”
Hamilton believes Cheney’s bill serves two purposes.
“First, if the environmental groups are successful in getting an injunction against state management until the appeals process is done, this could add some additional time to when Wyoming could begin to manage wolves again,” he says.
He also notes that the bill highlights the continued need for Endangered Species Act reform.
“If Congress has to step into the process like they’ve had to on the wolf issue, not only in Wyoming but in Montana, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, it helps to highlight that chance is necessary,” Hamilton explains. “Delisting the wolf has taken entirely too long.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.