On Dec. 20, 2014, a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., struck down the delisting of wolves in the western Great Lakes region—or “relisted,” if you will—and returned them to federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Protection from what, extinction? By definition, the Endangered Species Act is designed “to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” That’s straight from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Further explanation states that, “Under the ESA, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. ‘Endangered’ means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. ‘Threatened’ means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.”
You don’t have to be the head cashier at Chick-fil-A to look up the hard numbers and see that in no state in the Great Lakes region are the wolves either endangered or threatened. In fact, the wolf season initiated in Minnesota in 2012 because the population numbers of gray wolves were at historic highs. Wolves have surpassed population goals in all the Great Lakes states.
It should’ve been immediately apparent to anyone remotely in touch with the basic principles of the North American Conservation Model, the move to relist wolves was not simply based upon the population of wolves—which have clearly recovered in all states affected by this judgment: Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a shallow political move planned and executed to meet the illegitimate agenda of a few.
You could read the blasphemous 111-page ruling that set this issue ablaze again, but the end result is that U.S. District Court Judge (it’s difficult for me to call her a judge because this decision proves she’s worthy of neither that honor nor respect) Beryl A. Howell decided that until wolves are re-established in their “historical range,” which would ironically consist of major metropolitan areas across the United States, including New York City, Washington D.C., Seattle … among others—they cannot be considered recovered in Michigan, Minnesota or Wisconsin, no matter how large the wolf populations are in those three states.
According to the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, Judge Howell’s ruling leaves two options for sportsmen, conservationists and those interested in the sound management of fish and wildlife in regard to returning the management of wolves to their proper place—in the hands of the states.
Judge Howell’s ruling can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
In 1996, the Clinton administration “amended” the ESA, instating a Distinct Population Segment policy to apply to both the listing and delisting of animals falling into consideration. In terms of this wolf argument, this policy states that the wolves in the Great Lakes states are a completely separate population than those living in the Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming—and thusly need to be managed separately.
So how can Howell’s ruling supersede the hard letters of the ESA to best benefit her agenda, disregarding biology, the law and agency policy in the process? Slanderous interpretation.
“While we continue to examine Judge Howell’s ruling, there is a strong case to be made that an appeal is not only warranted, but would have a good chance of success,” said Evan Heusinkveld, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Vice President of Government Affairs. “The fundamental purpose of including ‘distinct population segments’ in the Endangered Species Act is so that the Fish and Wildlife Service has flexibility. This includes the flexibility to delist a regionally recovered population such as the Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin wolves. Moreover, this also allows them to list a regionally endangered population, and to continue to provide protection in areas where the species has not yet recovered.
“It’s pretty clear that the ESA provides for both listing and delisting based upon a distinct population segment—and that’s what makes this ruling such a surprise,” said Heusinkveld. “This decision is emblematic of the larger problem we’re facing with the ESA—the health of a species is no longer the determining factor in whether to delist.”
Judge Howell’s ruling also marks the third time in less than a decade that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been denied the ability to delist western Great Lakes-area wolves and return their management to the state level.
“Everyone agrees that wolves in those states have recovered—that’s not the issue,” said Heusinkveld. “Continuing to see legitimate delisting efforts stymied by federal judges might just provide the impetus needed to pursue a congressional fix similar to the action taken by Congress a few years ago to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho.
“It’s the local sportsmen, farmers and citizens in these states that are paying the ultimate price in this game,” said Heusinkveld. “If the courts won’t do the right thing, maybe it’s time that Congress does.”
Superheroes For Sportsmen
But there’s good news—and hope—on the horizon: These and all other available legislative options are being considered.
In fact, as I write this, lawyers for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance are tearing apart Howell’s ruling and weighing all political and legal options. And that should bring you as much comfort as is possible in this situation—it certainly does me—because there is no other organization that works as hard for sportsmen, legally and politically, as the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.
Know that helpless and desperate feeling you get when the antis come knocking? Well, these guys are there, taking names and kicking tail ... and they offer solutions and resources for what you can do to help in each specific situation, whether it's Great Lakes wolves, Maine bears or anything in between.
I think of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance as Superheroes, kicking ass in the shadows to make sure the streets stay clean and safe. And when they roll up their sleeves, I’m very thankful they’re on my team.
Here’s a glimpse of other issues the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance are battling right now:
Want to help the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance before they’re battling on your behalf in your neck of the woods? Check this out.