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A Reprieve for Wyoming Wolves is Welcome News Nationally

 Almost two years ago, Center for Biological DiversityDefenders of WildlifeNRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and the Sierra Club, all represented by Earthjustice— filed suit in federal district court in the District of Columbia asking the court to challenge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) decision to remove federal protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) from wolves in Wyoming. The conservation groups charged the court to “declare the rule illegal, and put wolves back on the endangered species list until Wyoming adopts a responsible management plan that ensures the continued survival and recovery of wolves in the region.”

In response to the lawsuit, on September 23rd Judge Amy Berman Jackson invalidated USFWS’ s 2012 statewide delisting. The ruling from the U.S. District Court reinstated federal protections and ended management of wolves by Wyoming, a state with a kill-on-sight approach to wolf management. In its 2012 management plan Wyoming promised to maintain more than the required 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside the national parks. The Judge took issue with an addendum in the plan assuring that it would maintain a buffer of wolves above the required number because it did not specify how many wolves or make the buffer binding by law. Because the addendum was legally unenforceable, the Judge found the buffer to be a violation of the ESA.

A week later in response to the ruling, the state filed an emergency rule with the Secretary of State’s Office to address Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s concerns and hoping to still begin its wolf hunting season on October 1st.  The Judge ordered a hearing on September 30th where she then denied Wyoming’s attempt to return wolves to the state’s control.

Since Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision to stick to her initial ruling, there have been speculations that poaching will increase, political candidates running on a platform of allowing Wyoming’s 2014 trophy wolf hunt to proceed in defiance of a federal judge’s order, and accusations that people who do not have “skin in the game” are calling the shots in re: to wildlife that belongs to Wyoming.

“The wolf tags have been issued, and hunters had already made plans to start their hunts,”  said Wyoming gubernatorial candidate Don Wills. “The disruption to hunters, outfitters and the cost to Wyoming Game and Fish to refund hunting permits caused by a single black-robed judge who sits in Washington, D.C., and has probably never been in Wyoming is outrageous and should be defied by Wyoming.”

 So should it matter what those outside of Wyoming think about the state’s mismanagement of wolves? You bet.

Wildlife and other natural resources are a public trust which means all citizens share equal, undivided interests in America’s wildlife.The public trust is a legal concept that ensures public access to, and protection of, important natural resources. In addition, Wyoming’s wolf management policies can influence expectations about wildlife management in other states.

“Fish and Wildlife caved to Wyoming’s insistence on keeping the predator zone,” said Wolf Conservation Center’s Maggie Howell. “With the service on the cusp of delisting wolves across the United States, any concessions that were allowed in Wyoming by the federal government could set a precedent for other states to bargain with.” It’s both wrong and dangerous to allow a state with a history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies to set a example for other states to follow. This is why U.S. District Judge Jackson’s ruling to reinstate federal protections for Wyoming’s wolves is also good news for wolves beyond the state’s borders.