Advocates sue federal agency for failing to adopt national gray wolf plan

Lawsuit also contends that plans are so old that they’ve failed to incorporate modern science to help understand wolf recovery efforts

By: - November 30, 2022 2:05 pm
gray wolf

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., that claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored federal law for a national recovery plan for gray wolves. (Tracy Brooks/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

As the fate of Montana’s wolf hunting season was being decided in Lewis and Clark County, a national environmental group was filing a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., that claims the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has shirked its duty and ignored federal law by failing to devise an adequate national recovery plan for the endangered gray wolves.

In Montana, as part of the Rocky Mountain Region, wolves have been delisted for about a decade, left to state management by an act of Congress. However, as the Center for Biological Diversity was filing the case in D.C., a Helena judge was mulling whether new wolf hunting rules passed by the 2021 Montana Legislature were based upon faulty population estimates.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity said the Endangered Species Act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue five-year plans that will guide the wolf recovery efforts. According to the lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  hasn’t updated its plan in a decade.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials do not comment on pending litigation as a matter of policy, they told the Daily Montanan.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the federal government has also broken up the recovery of the wolves by regions, which attorneys argue is contrary to federal law.  In the suit, they ask a federal judge to order the agency to create a new five-year plan, with a focus on areas in the entire country where wolves could live instead of focusing on certain regions of the country.

Before westward expansion and European immigration, scientists estimate that lands now encompassed by the United States had as many as 2 million gray wolves.

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“In February of this year, another court vacated FWS’s most recent attempt to remove federal protections from the gray wolf nearly nationwide without addressing wither the species has, in fact, recovered on a nationwide basis,” the lawsuit said.

The suit also contends that the plans are so old that they’ve failed to incorporate modern science to help understand the efforts at wolf recovery.

“FWS developed these recovery plans prior to major scientific gains in wolf genetics and population viability analysis,” the lawsuit said. “The agency never developed recovery plans to guide recovery for many areas where wolves could and should recover.”

Attorneys claim that gray wolves in America occupy less than 15% of their historical range, and that the total population numbers less than 7,000.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants to the court to set a schedule the FWS would have to follow in order to produce a “nationwide recovery plan for the gray wolf,” as well as a five-year status review.

“The service can’t rely on its outdated, unambitious and piecemeal approach to wolf recovery any longer,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the center. “The agency’s refusal to complete a national wolf recovery plan, besides violating the law, neglects both the people who want this majestic species to recover and the wolves that are so important to our country’s biodiversity.”

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.