More legal challenges over gray wolves, grizzly bears

By Laura Bies

Grizzly bears were removed from the endangered species list in 2017, but a court has recently reinstated protections for the species. The government has filed an appeal in the case. ©USFWS

Over the past several years, gray wolves (Canis lupus) have been the subject of several efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the species under the Endangered Species Act, and just as many efforts by others to ensure that the wolves remain listed under the Act.

Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society of the United States petitioned the USFWS to keep wolves across the Lower 48 states listed and to develop a recovery plan for the animals. This petition is separate from a recent suit, also filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, arguing that the USFWS violated the law by never developing a recovery plan for gray wolves.

Recent attempts to delist gray wolves due to recovery have been countermanded several times by the court. Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies have been successfully delisted — in Montana, Idaho and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Utah through a rider attached to budget legislation in 2011 and in Wyoming by the Service last year — while wolves across the rest of the contiguous U.S. are still listed under the ESA. Last month, the House passed a bill removing gray wolves across the contiguous United States from ESA protections, although the bill did not pass the Senate.

In another case regarding ESA protections, several organizations that support grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) delisting are asking a court to reconsider its recent decision.

The USFWS declared the grizzly bear recovered last year, a decision that was immediately met with a number of lawsuits. Those lawsuits were ultimately consolidated into one case. While that case was under consideration, the court blocked a planned hunt in Wyoming. In September, the court found that the delisting of grizzlies was legally insufficient and invalidated the 2017 delisting, returning them to the ESA list.

In mid-December, Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association filed a notice of appeal, asking a federal circuit court to reverse that decision. The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the state of Wyoming have all filed similar notices of appeal. On Dec. 21, the administration filed its notice of appeal as well.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Delisting of Grizzly Bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area and its comments on delisting.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Wolf Restoration and Management in the Contiguous United States.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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