Montana and the federal government both filed appeals Friday, asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the Aug. 5 ruling that relisted gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act.
The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and federal Department of Justice joined Idaho, the Idaho and Montana Farm Bureau federations, and the Mountain States Legal Foundation in asking the court to revisit Judge Donald Molloy’s ruling. In Molloy’s opinion, gray wolves can’t be considered a recovered species in Idaho and Montana while remaining listed as endangered in Wyoming. Also joining the appeal Friday were the National Rifle Association of America and Safari Club International.
“Montanans look to us to manage a viable and connected wolf population while reducing wolf impacts on big game populations and livestock producers,” FWP Director Joe Maurier said on Friday. “Today’s appeal is one of the avenues FWP is pursuing to regain the management authority it needs to meet Montanans’ expectations.”
The paperwork that was filed only stated that the various entities want the ruling appealed. But Bob Lane, FWP’s chief legal counsel, said they will present legal arguments asserting why they believe Molloy erred and that the region’s recovered wolves should be returned to a delisted status.
“Basically, we’ll say that the judge had it wrong, that Congress intended and the language of the Act allows the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) Service to have different classifications for different populations of species, and can do it along state lines,” Lane said. “We think that will address the issue.”
He added that FWP is thrilled to have the federal government involved. In September, Steve Doherty, an adviser to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, said he wasn’t sure if the USFWS would join in the appeal. That caused some concern among FWP officials, who were worried about what it would look like if the main defendant in the lawsuit wasn’t a party to the appeal.
“It’s a big deal for us that they joined the appeal, because if they didn’t we would be missing one of the principal players,” Lane said. “If the primary defendant didn’t think enough to appeal, it would have some affect on how it would look to the 9th Circuit judges. So this is important.”
Lane said they’re also continuing settlement discussions with the plaintiffs.
Monday is the deadline for filing an appeal.
Michael Eitel, an attorney with DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Section, confirmed the filing but declined to comment further.
Doug Honnold, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represents the coalition of 14 environmental groups that filed the lawsuit protesting the delisting, wasn’t surprised to hear of the appeals. But he added that he’s not certain that the federal government will follow through.
“I’m still hoping they will see the error of their ways and decide not to pursue the appeal,” Honnold said. “The law is pretty darn clear about splitting the states out. It obviously was done for political reasons, but no matter what, they have to follow the law. I have a hard time believing this appeal will go forward unless the states and federal government have decided they will fight to the death in every potential arena and go down swinging.
“It seems to me like a stupid strategy, but it’s their call on how they want to use their resources.”
According to an order filed by the appeals court, mediation questionnaires are due by next Friday, and opening briefs must be filed by Jan. 10, 2011. Lane said the court probably will ask the parties to go through a mediation process, and if that’s not productive, the court will decide the appeal based on briefs and oral arguments.
This week has seen numerous twists and turns in the wolf saga. Congressmen in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah all filed various bills seeking to remove gray wolves from the list of threatened or endangered species in some or all of those states, and Montana and Idaho are seeking special permission to hold wolf hunts.
Honnold expects more changes before that January deadline.
“Obviously, the states are doing everything in their power to reinstate the hunts,” Honnold said. “It’s kind of an all-fronts war.”
Wolves in Montana and Idaho were removed from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act most recently in 1999, but not in Wyoming since the state doesn’t have a federally approved wolf management plan.
The Northern Rockies are home to about 1,700 gray wolves, which is more than five times the previously set federal benchmark of 300 wolves for them to be considered a recovered species and removed from federal protection.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com