Dec 192014

Opinion and order (latter embedded below) in Humane Society of the U.S. . Jewell (13-00186-BAH, D.D.C.)

Howell, in D.C., reinstates protections
in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin

In a news release, the Humane Society said that in her opinion, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell "chided the USFWS for failing to explain why it ignored the potential for further recovery of wolves into areas of its historic range that remain viable habitat for the species.  The court also noted that the USFWS has failed to explain how the “virtually unregulated” killing of wolves by states in the Great Lakes region does not constitute a continued threat to the species."

HSUS complaint  ♦  Final rule delisting Great Lakes wolf (12/28/11)  ♦  FWS Western Gray Lakes gray wolf page  ♦  ECOS page  ♦  CBD page  ♦  "Policy Issues Regarding Wolves in the Great Lakes Region"  ♦  Dateline Minnesota  ♦  AP (in Detroit News)  ♦  Selected court documents:  FWS brief  ♦  HSUS brief  ♦ Minnesota brief  ♦  Minn. 2012 wolf rules  ♦  HSUS opp. to AFWA amicus request  ♦  Declaration of Edward K. Boggess

From AP story about Minnesota:

ST. PAUL, Minn. — State officials say Minnesotans can no longer kill wolves unless their lives are in danger.

The change was brought about by a federal judge's ruling Friday effectively restoring gray wolves to the endangered species list in Great Lakes states.

Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Niskanen says that means farmers and ranchers concerned about wolves preying on cattle can't kill the wolves themselves. Instead, they should call conservation officers.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell's decision could also halt Minnesota's wolf hunting and trapping seasons. But Niskanen says the federal government's stance could change again before the state sets its wolf hunting season next summer.

Photo links to Legal Times story in unrelated case  



Nov 252014

Update (Dec. 2, 2014):

Environmental groups also are pushing to stop the hunt on adjacent FS lands. Here's a letter from Western Watersheds Project, Advocates for the West, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Coyote.

Update: BLM released a statement and its decision to rescind the afternoon of Nov. 25th. Scroll down to read it.

The Bureau of Land Management has decided to cancel a planned hunt for wolves, coyotes and other species on about 3 million acres in Idaho.

The permit for the so-called "predator derby" would have allowed three days of hunting each year for five years, starting Jan. 2. The Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Project Coyote and Defenders of Wildlife had filed a lawsuit challenging the hunt and were waiting for BLM's response to the groups' request for an expedited briefing schedule.

The hunt is still scheduled to occur on Forest Service lands, however. (see above for update)

Juvenile coyotes are often heard in summer, trying out their voices (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)

“We’re so glad that the deadly derby has been canceled this year,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who represents the Center, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote. “These sort of ruthless kill-fests have no place in this century. We intend to pursue every available remedy to stop these horrible contests.” (Press release from environmental groups)

"The hunt would have allowed up to 500 participants compete to kill the largest number of wolves, coyotes and other animals for cash and prizes," the groups' press release said. "Contest organizers are hoping to expand their contest statewide."

BLM has yet to comment publicly on why it stopped the contest. Calls to BLM in Idaho and to a lawyer with derby organizer Idaho for Wildlife have yet to be returned. The court docket also has no filing from BLM.

"I believe that DOJ didn’t want to defend our motion because we have a good record," Atwood said.

According to the bureau's Finding of No Significant Impact, "For the purposes of the competition, predators include a variety of species, including, wolves, coyotes, weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, raccoons, and starlings. All rules and hunting regulations would be followed and adhered to by all participants."

BLM grants permit (11/13/14)

Public comment period open on permit (10/2/14)

BLM statement, 11/25/14

After careful consideration, the BLM has decided to withdraw the Record of Decision for the Predator Hunt Derby Special Recreation Permit. This comes as a result of uncertainties about the details of the Predator Hunt as provided by Idaho for Wildlife and operational changes that occurred after the Decision was released which then created ambiguity, making it difficult to conclusively determine whether an SRP was required, appropriate or administratively subject to a waiver under our regulations.

Full decision follows

Nov 142014

Environmental groups are suing the Bureau of Land Management over approval of a "predator derby" on 3.1 million acres of BLM lands in Idaho (Defenders of Wildlife v. Kraayenbrink, 14-487, D. Id.).

The agency's Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision Record "rely on numerous factual and legal misstatements, omissions, and unwarranted assumptions to downplay potentially significant adverse impacts to wildlife populations, recreational use, [Wilderness Study Areas], and other environmental values," the complaint says.

Approval of the derby is "directly contrary to the federal government’s wolf reintroduction efforts," the suit says. "[U]p to 500 entrants will compete over a three-day period each winter – starting on January 2, 2015 – to see who can kill the most and largest wolves and coyotes, and win cash and prizes." The lawsuit seeks to have the EA/FONSI and decision record vacated and reversed.

In addition to Defenders, other plaintiffs are the Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote and Western Watersheds Project.

“We are aware of the social controversy regarding the event,” said Joe Kraayenbrink, BLM's Idaho Falls District Manager. “However, from our analysis, we could not find significant conflicts with other environmental resources that would prohibit the competitive event from occurring."

Unless stopped by the court, the derby will take place on about 3.1 million acres of land managed by the Challis, Salmon, and Upper Snake Field Offices of BLM's Idaho Falls District. "For the purposes of the competition, predators include a variety of species, including, wolves, coyotes, weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, raccoons, and starlings," BLM's EA says.

"Participants will bring their harvested predators to a location on private property within Salmon, where they will compete on a point system based on the number and types of predators harvested," the EA says.

The event promoter is Idaho for Wildlife, which states on its website that its mission is "to protect Idaho's hunting and fishing heritage. To fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations who are trying to take away our rights and freedoms under the constitution of the United States of America. To hold all Government and State Agencies who are stewards of our Wildlife accountable and ensure that science is used as the primary role four our Wildlife management."

Press release on lawsuit

Nov 112014

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represents environmental groups in the litigation that resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service reclaiming authority (unwillingly) over the gray wolf in Wyoming, wrote in the Casper Star-Tribune Sunday that the service and the state should "comprehensively address the weaknesses of Wyoming’s wolf management program that make it vulnerable to court reversal. Doing so would give the Wyoming Game and Fish Department the tools it needs to responsibly manage wolves. It would also ensure a secure future for a great American conservation success story."

Preso was taking aim at what he called a "troubling" comment by Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe. From the op-ed:

Arguing that Judge Jackson shouldn’t have returned the wolf to federal protection, Ashe recently said, “The judge took a small defect to make a large decision of vacating the rule.”

The fundamental issue of Wyoming’s failure to guarantee an adequate minimum population of wolves is hardly a “small defect.” But, even more important, the court didn’t subject many other aspects of Wyoming’s program to any scrutiny after it found that major fault.

It would be wrong to mistake that silence for assent. If the Fish and Wildlife Service believes that Wyoming can fix its program merely by writing a slightly more binding promise to maintain a minimum population, it is effectively betting that it can win on every other outstanding issue concerning Wyoming’s wolf management — even though the Service has never yet won a wolf delisting case.

Preso also said some have mischaracterized the judge's ruling as reflecting approval of the service's conclusion that the wolf has recovered in the Northern Rockies.

"[S]ome have claimed that the judge also admitted in her ruling that the wolf had recovered as a species even though she put it back under federal protection. That is not so," Preso wrote. "When Jackson’s ruling discussed the wolf’s recovery, it addressed only a specific scientific finding about wolf immigration and the amount of 'genetic exchange' among different populations the Fish and Wildlife Service had documented prior to the wolf’s delisting in 2012. Importantly, the judge did not address whether Wyoming’s management plan could sustain adequate wolf immigration in the future, which is also essential for any finding of recovery."

The full op-ed is here

Nov 062014

From FR notice, Nov. 6, 2014 

View from Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim) NPS photo by Jessica Pope

"On October 6, 2014, a suspected gray wolf was seen wandering in the area of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Deer hunting season is beginning in this area of Arizona, and it is believed that the wolf may be in danger of possible harm and could accidentally be shot either as a result of misunderstanding of status or misidentification. We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have, under an Endangered Species Act (ESA) permit, authorized qualified researchers to capture, draw blood, and possibly affix a brightly colored GPS radio collar on the suspect wolf and release it back into the general area where it was captured. It is essential for its safety to conduct these actions."

. . .

"Without being able to trap and identify the animal, it is unknown as to whether it is a gray wolf or some type of wolf-dog hybrid."

Federal Register | Emergency Exemption; Issuance of Emergency Permit To Capture a Suspected Gray Wolf in the Area of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona. (same as link above)

Wolves in Wyoming back on the list

 Posted by on September 24, 2014
Sep 242014

Gray wolves in Wyoming are back on the endangered species list after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., said the Fish and Wildlife Service could not "rely on nonbinding and unenforceable representations when it concluded that the state’s plan was adequate to ensure that the state will in fact maintain the necessary number of breeding pairs and individual wolves" (Defenders of Wildlife v. Jewell, 12-1833 ABJ, D.D.C.).

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson's opinion

Said Jackson:

"This opinion does not go so far as to hold that the FWS may not ever consider nonbinding statements as part of the mix when assessing the adequacy of a set of regulatory mechanisms as a whole; it finds that it was unreasonable in this instance for FWS to determine that it was necessary for Wyoming to manage for more than ten breeding pairs and 100 wolves as a condition for delisting but then accept a plan that did not commit to that."

Earthjustice, et al. press release on decision

More coming on this story...

Excerpts from opinion:

Since the decision to delist is expressly premised on the state’s intention to manage to maintain a buffer above 10/100, the next question for the Court to resolve is whether it was proper for FWS to rely on nonbinding and unenforceable representations when it concluded that the state’s plan was adequate to ensure that the state will in fact maintain the necessary number of breeding pairs and individual wolves.

In this case, the agency did not merely consider the nonbinding statements in the Addendum as one aspect of the state’s overall regulatory scheme: two out of five of the original peer reviewers found the regulatory mechanisms to be inadequate in the absence of a buffer, and the Addendum was submitted by the state in response. The record reflects that FWS specifically relied on the representations in the Addendum as the basis for its conclusion that Wyoming would do what the agency had determined that it must do: manage above the 10/100 minimum. The Court finds that under those circumstances, the reliance on mere assurances was inappropriate, and it rendered the FWS decision arbitrary and capricious. This opinion does not go so far as to hold that the FWS may not ever consider nonbinding statements as part of the mix when assessing the adequacy of a set of regulatory mechanisms as a whole; it finds that it was unreasonable in this instance for FWS to determine that it was necessary for Wyoming to manage for more than ten breeding pairs and 100 wolves as a condition for delisting but then accept a plan that did not commit to that. See Colorado River Cutthroat Trout v. Salazar, 898 F. Supp. 2d 191, 207–08 (D.D.C. 2012) (“while the FWS cannot rely on promised and unenforceable conservation agreements in evaluating regulatory mechanisms . . . its consideration of the Conservation Strategy as part of its overall assessment of ongoing management practices is not inappropriate.”). Accordingly, the Court holds that the Service’s determination that Wyoming’s regulatory scheme was adequate under the ESA was arbitrary and capricious.

Footnote 8: In Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Inc., v. Servheen, 665 F. 3d 1015, 1030–31 (9th. Cir. 2011), the plaintiffs raised concerns similar to those here that the Service had relied upon too many measures that were not legally binding when delisting the grizzly bear. But the court declined to reach the question of whether a voluntary, unenforceable measure could constitute a “regulatory mechanism” under §1533(a)(1)(D); instead it ruled that even if the Service’s consideration of the voluntary and unenforceable components of the multi-state conservation plan was error, the determination could be upheld based upon legally binding components alone. That option is not available here since the delisting decision depends expressly upon the state’s commitment to manage above the 10/100 minimum number.


Wyoming wolf delisting challenged in federal court (EJ release, 12/17/13)

FWS gray wolf page

Service Declares Wyoming Gray Wolf Recovered Under the ESA and Returns Management Authority to the State (8/31/2012)

Jul 292014

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says it won't kill wolves in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness on the Payette National Forest.

Western Watersheds Project, which has sued IDFG over its plans, announced the development today. Jeff Gould, chief of the department's wildlife bureau, made the commitment in a declaration filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Maughan v. Vilsack, 14-35043).

"The lawsuit already halted last winter's operations in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, but the agencies had intended to resume this year," WWP said.

"Wiping out two wolf packs without any public participation or environmental review violated the management principles of the Wilderness Act and the National Forest Management Act," WWP said earlier this year, when the hunt was first stopped. "The IDFG was using Forest Service cabins as a base camp for the extermination efforts."

IDFG "claimed that the Golden Pack and the Monumental Pack were reducing elk populations to the detriment of human hunting," WWP said.

In addition to WWP, plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and Wilderness Watch.


Feb 072014

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reopen the comment period on its proposal to delist the gray wolf throughout the lower 48 states, following release today of a review that says FWS didn't use the best scientific information available.

The "key conclusions" from the report by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis:

  • There was unanimity among the panelists that, although there was much good scientific work in the Proposed Rule, the rule is heavily dependent upon the analysis of Chambers et al. 
  • Some reviewers also noted a lack of appropriate use of the literature on species level taxonomy 
  • There was unanimity among the panelists that Chambers et al was not universally accepted and
  • that the issue was ‘not settled’. The issues raised by Chambers et al could be definitively answered relatively soon.
  • There was unanimity among the panel that the rule does not currently represent the ‘best available science’
  • Neither the panel as a whole, not any of its members in their individual reviews, made any management or policy recommendations. 

The comment period will be reopened until midnight, March 27. (FWS press release)

Sep 112012

Eight other groups have also said they will sue over the delisting of the gray wolf in Wyoming.

WildEarth Guardians,  Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Conservation Congress, Friends of Animals, Friends of the Clearwater, National Wolfwatcher Coalition and Western Watersheds Project sent a Notice of Intent to Sue on Sept 10.

They joined the more nationally known groups Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, who also have said they will file a lawsuit over the delisting.

Press release