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February 1, 2005
Contact:  Michael Robinson, (505) 534-0360
More Information: Mexican Wolf Web, Court Ruling

Ruling will lead to wolf recovery in much broader areas than Interior Secretary wanted

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones in Portland, Oregon yesterday enjoined and vacated the April 1, 2003 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wolf reclassification rule that divided all gray wolf historic range in the contiguous 48 states into three huge Distinct Population Segments, downlisted wolves in most of the West and East from "endangered" to "threatened" and precipitated a recovery planning process for wolves in the Southwest, parts of the southern Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau without consideration of the Mexican gray wolf's unique status as a locally evolved subspecies.

The suit was filed by nineteen conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife.  It is Civil case No. 03-1348-JO.

As a result of yesterday's ruling, recently issued rules for the (former) Eastern and Western Gray Wolf Distinct Population Segments that would allow ranchers to shoot wolves on sight if they could claim the wolves were chasing domestic animals -- even without any evidence -- will have to be rescinded.

Additionally, a recovery team for wolves in the (former) Southwest Gray Wolf Distinct Population Segment will have to receive different marching orders, according to Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, who is a member of that team.  That DPS included the entire Republic of Mexico and extended to I-70 in northern Colorado.

"This is great news for gray wolves, including our highly imperiled Mexican gray wolf," said Robinson. 

The DPS's (which were slipped into the Federal Register on the same day that U.S. troops entered Baghdad) were intended to cover as much ground as possible so that once a single viable population of gray wolves within each DPS was established, wolves in the entire DPS could be first downlisted and then completely delisted -- considered entirely recovered -- even if wolves were entirely absent or nearly so within the remaining tens of thousands of square miles within that DPS.

The defendants, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, as well as intervenor-defendants Wyoming, Idaho and the Safari Club, had argued that the phrase in the Endangered Species Act that defines an endangered species as one likely to go extinct in "all or a significant portion of its range" only applies to the species' current range.  The court called this argument "internally inconsistent" with other rationales advanced for the regulation at issue.

The ruling means that today wolves are once again governed by a 1978 federal regulation that guaranteed consideration of biological subspecies in recovery planning.  That regulation had been replaced by the April 1, 2003 rule that has been struck down.

Robinson described the ruling as a "triumph of science over politics."

"Interior Secretary Gale Norton tried to gerrymander the entire contiguous 48 states so that wolves in a few areas would make up for the absence of wolves in much larger regions," Robinson explained.  "Now, instead of drawing lines on the map based on political considerations," he said, "any future lines must be based on science."

The DPS line on I-70 bisected the southern Rocky Mountains, where a 1994 federal study had determined that as many as 1,100 wolves could survive, but which is not part of any current recovery area.  Prior to April 1, 2003, the Center and Defenders of Wildlife had urged that the southern Rocky Mountains be established as its own DPS, with recovery goals that are independent of goals for other ecosystems.

By combining the southern part of the southern Rocky Mountains with southwestern ecosystems, the 2003 rule had pitted region against region in a competition for which area would be designated as wolf recovery areas.  The Mexican gray wolf, Canis lupus baileyi, whose original range only extended into the Sky Islands region of southern Arizona and New Mexico (and not even as far north as its current, single recovery area in the Apache and Gila National Forests of Arizona and New Mexico respectively), was subsumed within the (former) Southwest DPS and was en route to delisting without a single Mexican wolf inhabiting its evolutionary home.

Mexican wolves are banned from the Sky Islands under the terms of the 1998 reintroduction program that pledges the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove wolves who set up territories on public lands outside their recovery area.

Concurrent with his ruling yesterday, Judge Jones refused to vacate a declaration by Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity that explained the threats to Mexican wolves posed by the 2003 regulation.  The defendants and defendant-intervenors filed three separate motions and produced an exhibit to argue that this declaration should be struck from the record.

"This opens the door for Mexican wolves, the animal that pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold affectionately called the 'desert wolf,' to be recovered in the Sky Islands ecosystem," said Robinson, referring to mountain ranges such as the Chiricahuas and Pinelenos (Mt. Graham) in Arizona and the Peloncillo and Hatchet Mountains of New Mexico which rise out of an ocean of desert.

"We believe the gray wolf should also be recovered in the southern Rocky Mountains, including the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado and the Flat Tops Wilderness of northern Colorado; the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon region of Utah and northern Arizona; the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, such as the Siskiyou and Klamath Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California; and the Adirondacks of upstate New York and adjoining areas of New England," said Robinson. 

"Now the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to give these regions due consideration in planning," he added.

The conservationists were represented by the firm of Faegre and Benson in Minneapolis, MN.  Chief counsel was Brian B. O'Neill, assisted by Anne E. Mahle, Elizabeth H. Schmiesing, Richard A. Duncan and Colette Routel.

Contact Robinson for copies of the ruling and the declaration pertaining to the Mexican gray wolf that the court simultaneously allowed to stand.


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