April 1, 2009
Today an Arizona federal court (the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona) rejected the government’s attempt to block two cases seeking to ensure that Mexican wolves have a fighting chance at recovery in the wild.
This case concerns changes implemented by the Fish and Wildlife Services that conservation groups considered significantly altered the entire reintroduction program, went beyond the scope of the agency’s authority, and put the survival of the Mexican wolf at risk. Defenders and other groups challenged these management changes in court. Of particular concern were:
1) The shift in management of the program from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Adaptive Management Oversight Committee (AMOC).
2) Standard Operating Procedure 13 (SOP 13), which is a main cause of the failure to achieve the 100-wolf objective for Mexican wolves in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. Under SOP 13, Mexican wolves are killed or removed if they are known or suspected to be involved in three or more incidents of livestock killing in a year. No consideration is given to the impact removals have on the overall population, the social relations of wolves such as dependent pups, nor their genetic value.
Fish and Wildlife Services moved for dismissal of the suit by the conservation groups, claiming that the changes were unchallengeable. The Court agreed with the conservation groups’ claims that the changes were substantive and beyond the scope of the agency’s authority to implement.
With this decision, the substance of the claims that the creation of AMOC and adoption of SOP 13 violate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is strengthened. The Court’s detailed opinion and strong rejection of the government’s argument put conservation groups in a much stronger posture to argue the merits of our claims.
The plaintiffs are delighted that the court rejected the government’s attempt to get this case thrown out. The court’s decision means that the plaintiffs have a valid challenge to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s actions in creating AMOC and approving the wolf removal rule both of which have proven so devastating the Lobo population and hopes for recovery of wolves in the Southwest.
Plaintiffs look forward to arguing their case before the court, and working to ensure that the Fish and Wildlife Service gives Mexican wolves the chance they need to make a real recovery.
The plaintiffs on the lawsuits are:
Center for Biological Diversity
Defenders of Wildlife
Grand Canyon Wildlands Council
New Mexico Audubon Council
New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
The Rewilding Institute
Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter
Southwest Environmental Center
University of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance
Western Watersheds Project
The Wildlands Network