A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals today overturned a district court ruling that the wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("FWS") must be removed. Had the December 1997 ruling by Wyoming Judge William Downes not been reversed, the reintroduced wolves would have been put to death because of the so-called "poison pill" provision of the wolf regulations developed by FWS.
"We're delighted and relieved that the appeals court has saved these wolves from summary execution," exclaimed Doug Honnold of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of Predator Conservation Alliance, Sinapu, and Gray Wolf Committee. "Now the hard work begins -- making sure that the wolves and their habitat are truly protected."
The appeals court addressed three important issues in its ruling today. First, the court determined what conditions must be met before FWS may reintroduce an endangered species as an "experimental population" and eliminate its legal and habitat protections. Second, the court determined when an "experimental population" must be treated as endangered species because of overlap with naturally occurring populations of the same species. Third, the court determined that wolves that were not translocated and released by the FWS could be designated "experimental." FWS successfully argued that it had discretion to designate naturally occurring wolves as "experimental," a legal precedent that could allow FWS to remove the legal and habitat protections for any endangered species.
"We are concerned with the part of the opinion upholding FWS's ability to define any animals as experimental," said Doug Honnold. "We'll continue to work to ensure that wolves and the Endangered Species Act are preserved."
David Gaillard of Predator Conservation Alliance stated: "We're relieved the courts agree that the wolf has a place in the northern Rockies. However, we remain concerned that the government may use this opinion to reduce protections for endangered animals and their habitats."
"Wild wolves need wild places," said Rob Edward of Sinapu. "The battle for wilderness for wolves will continue."