Starting at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 29, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado will hear oral arguments regarding a longstanding dispute over the fate of wolf recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney Doug Honnold (Bozeman, MT) will argue that the court must reverse a lower court’s decision to remove all reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone and Idaho, and remand the reintroduction program back to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) for revision. Honnold represents conservation groups Predator Project (Bozeman, MT), Sinapu (Boulder, CO) and The Gray Wolf Committee (Lenore, ID).
“Wolf reintroduction has been a tremendous biological success within Yellowstone, but outside the Park wolves have had a hard time surviving,” said Honnold. “It’s time to move beyond photo-ops and enter the next phase of wolf recovery — to protect wolves when they leave Yellowstone.”
Honnold will also be arguing for reinstating protections for wolves in Idaho that made it south from Canada on their own. FWS estimated that 6-15 lone wolves naturally migrated into Idaho from Canada. Those wolves were stripped of their legal protections under the FWS reintroduction plan. “Once they dropped the reintroduced wolves into the area, the government illegally reclassified all the wolves as experimental. That represents an end-run around the Endangered Species Act,” Honnold said.
In December, 1997, U.S. District Court Judge William Downes granted the Farm Bureau’s request and ordered the removal of all reintroduced wolves from Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Conservationists were stunned by Downes’ unprecedented ruling. “Judge Downes’ order compounds the injustices already wrought upon America’s wolves,” said Predator Project’s Dave Gaillard. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should be directed to come up with a solution that protects wild wolves without endangering this successful reintroduction program.”
Honnold’s clients contend that the government should be doing more to ensure the long-term recovery of wolves in the lower-48 states. “Our duty is to weave wolves back into the fabric of the landscape. So far, the government has refused to accept that duty, cowering before a powerful group of livestock and timber interests,” said Rob Edward of Sinapu. “We need to protect wolves, and we need to protect the wild places of which wolves are a part. You cannot have one without the other,” Edward added, underscoring the fact that the government has refused to designate “critical habitat” for wolves in the Northern Rockies.
The conservation groups maintain that the present legal struggle symbolizes a larger battle over the government’s commitment to protect and restore large carnivores. “The government contends that placing wolves on the ground with one hand, while systematically destroying their habitat and legal protections with the other represents their best effort. The American people know better,” said Gaillard. “It’s simple. We need to protect the wolves. And we need to protect the habitat where the wolves choose to live.”
Honnold contends that much of the controversy surrounding the wolves’ legal status is unwarranted, and unfair to the wolves. “The wolves are fully capable of achieving recovery goals on their own, if we just make room for them. It is time we learn to recognize the needs of the wolves,” said Honnold.
Doug Honnold of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and Stephanie Tidwell of Sinapu will be available to answer questions at the courthouse following the hearing.