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Environmental Group Files Challenge to Gray Wolf Delisting in Wyoming

December 26, 2012

On November 13, 2012, the Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders) filed a legal challenge to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) rule to delist the Wyoming portion of the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf distinct population segment (gray wolves). The FWS rule rested on a Wyoming state management plan, which has undergone a number of revisions since the FWS first sought to delist gray wolves in the Rocky Mountains.

The Defenders’ challenge is the latest in a series against the FWS and state management of gray wolves. In 2011, the FWS published a final rule delisting gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah. Following multiple challenges, the 2011 rule was ultimately adopted as a law by Congress—an approach that was upheld in Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Salazar. The current FWS final rule completes the FWS’ efforts to delist the entire Rocky Mountain segment of gray wolves by delisting the Wyoming population of gray wolves.

In the September 2012 rule, the FWS found that Wyoming’s population of gray wolves had recovered such that they no longer required the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The final rule returned management of the gray wolves to the State of Wyoming under an approved management plan, though the FWS continues to monitor the delisted gray wolf populations for a minimum of five years.

The Defenders allege that the Wyoming delisting rule is arbitrary and capricious. Similar to their arguments from before, Defenders allege that the best available science indicates that the gray wolves are not biologically recovered. Further, Defenders allege that populations cannot recover under the Wyoming management plan and that state management contradicts the purposes and mandates of the ESA and its implementing regulations. Briefing is not yet scheduled in the case, but is likely to proceed late in the spring of 2013.

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