FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THURSDAY, JANUARY 13, 2000
TDD (202) 514-1888
FEDERAL APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS WOLF REINTRODUCTION PROGRAM
IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a significant environmental ruling, a federal appeals court today reversed a lower court decision ordering the Department of the Interior to remove gray wolves relocated from Canada and released into part of their historical range in the United States, including Yellowstone National Park.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the regulations establishing the "wolf reintroduction" program fully met the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, and that the Department of the Interior had properly exercised its discretion in applying the ESA to the wide-roaming wolves. The court of appeals reversed the 1997 order that the wolves be removed, and it directed the district court to enter an order upholding the challenged wolf reintroduction rules instead.
"This is a great victory that will help us go forward in restoring the wolves and their ecosystem," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.
The gray wolf, canis lupus, a protected species under the ESA, was extirpated in the western portion of the United States by about 1930 as a result of human activity. In 1995-1996, in order to aid the recovery of the endangered gray wolf in this country, the Department of the Interior transported gray wolves from Canada and released them into remote areas of the United States where no wolf populations naturally occur, in and around Yellowstone National Park and in central Idaho. The reintroduction was opposed in court by organizations representing western ranching interests, and some environmental groups on various grounds, including on the ground that the regulations allegedly lessened protections to naturally occurring, individual member of the same species who might be found elsewhere in the United States, notably Montana, as a result of natural migration from Canada. Other litigants claimed that the Canadian wolves should not be reintroduced into Yellowstone because there were some indigenous wolves still living in Yellowstone. Many other environmental groups participated in the litigation in support of the reintroduction program.
In late 1997, the district court ruled that the wolf reintroduction regulations were contrary to the ESA because they lessened protections for naturally occurring wolves and ordered the reintroduced wolves to be removed from the experimental areas. The district court stayed this order in order to let the court of appeals review its decision. The court of appeals ruled that the Interior Department's regulations accurately reflects the goals of the Endangered Species Act to protect natural populations while at the same time promoting the recovery of the species. The court found that the plain language of the statute expressed "Congress' intent to protect the Secretary's authority to designate when and where an experimental population may be established." The court also found insufficient evidence of a preexisting, naturally occurring wolf population in Yellowstone to prevent introduction of Canadian wolves.
As a result of today's decision, the wolves will be able to remain in the experimental areas, where they have successfully established packs and have grown in numbers to over 300.