New coalition joins in wolf litigation frenzy
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
December 8, 2012
Two animal rights groups — the Humane Society and the Fund for Animals — filed suit Friday aiming to take wolf management out of Wyoming’s hands.
The groups’ action marks the third lawsuit that has been filed since Endangered Species Act protections were removed for the controversial predator on Oct. 1.
The scattered approach to litigation is partially due to difficulty finding common ground when many groups are involved, said Ralph Henry, the Humane Society’s deputy director of litigation.
“Litigation in the last delisting attempt involved in a large coalition,” Henry said. “If you get a ton of litigants together, it becomes difficult for any sort of compromise.”
In 2009, the Humane Society was part of a 13-group coalition represented by Earthjustice that successfully restored federal oversight for Wyoming wolves when they first lost Endangered Species Act protections. The same coalition fractured in 2011 in a Montana wolf suit, when some plaintiffs wanted to settle the case and others did not.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead, said the volley of lawsuits wasn’t surprising.
“The three groups all had to file a notice of intent, so we knew this was going to happen,” he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Gov. Mead are pushing for the courts to change venues so the wolf lawsuits can be heard in Wyoming.
The first lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The Human Society and Fund for Animals filed in the same venue, Henry said. A third coalition of eight organizations filed suit in U.S. District Court in Colorado.
While the three coalitions of plaintiffs that have filed suits aren’t associated, the legal claims listed in their complaints are closely aligned.
“There really isn’t too much different in terms of the actual legal claims,” Henry said.
The Humane Society attorney criticized recovery numbers required by the state’s wolf management plan in addition to Wyoming’s expansive wolf predator zone. In that zone, about 85 percent of the state, wolves can be killed without a license and by almost any method.
“They’re classified as predator, but they’re treated as a nuisance,” Henry said. “That’s an amazing contradiction to being treated as a protected species under federal law.
“There is no legal obligation to manage for more than 100 wolves or 10 breeding pairs,” he said “The population can absolutely go down to that amount.”
Biologists believed Wyoming had about 300 wolves going into the hunting season. As of Thursday, 58 wolves — approximately 20 percent of the population — had been reported killed.