USFWS Announces Wolf Settlement; Up To Court To OK; RMEF Reviewing Terms

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and 10 of the 14 plaintiffs involved in litigation over Endangered Species Act protections of wolves in the Northern Rockies today announced a settlement that, pending a Federal court’s OK, would move day-to-day management of packs back to Idaho and Montana, where it was in 2009 before a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling last summer relisted the species across the region.

The deal comes as pressure mounts in Congress to legislatively delist wolves. It would not affect Washington and Oregon’s small but growing populations.

There’s a whole lot of material for everyone to go over on the weekend, and among the groups that will be reviewing what just happened is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

“We are reviewing the settlement terms and evaluating both the benefits and consequences,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Missoula-based organization. “Simply rolling the clock back to 2009 isn’t going to fix the problem. The science has been clear for more than a decade—wolves are fully recovered and states need authority to manage them. For that to happen, we are still going to need Congress to step up and provide the real solution.”

Last week, USFWS released data that showed that for the ninth straight year, wolf numbers in the Northern Rockies have met biological recovery goals.

Meanwhile, below is the Service’s press release, terms of the agreement and Q&A on it.

Also, immediately below are links to early stories cranked out by newspapers, a joint statement by the Sierra Club and other litigants on the settlement, a statement from Earthjustice, which had been representing the plaintiffs as a whole but had to step away when most wanted to settle, and reaction at The Wildlife News blog.

http://missoulian.com/news/local/article_8e9e0458-5193-11e0-b42d-001cc4c002e0.html

http://www.bluemountaineagle.com/news/breaking_news/groups-settle-over-wolf-recovery-in-idaho-and-montana/article_d990a7f4-5193-11e0-a1c0-001cc4c002e0.html

http://www.magicvalley.com/news/state-and-regional/article_eb1bda12-5197-11e0-b629-001cc4c03286.html

http://action.sierraclub.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=200144.0

http://earthjustice.org/blog/2011-march/fight-to-protect-gray-wolf-shifts-to-capitol-hill

http://wolves.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/some-groups-settle-on-wolf-delisting-lawsuit-others-dont/

(U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE PRESS RELEASE)

PRESS RELEASE (TERMS OF AGREEMENT, QUESTIONS & ANSWERS BELOW)

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reached an agreement with the majority of plaintiffs, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and eight other conservation organizations, to settle ongoing litigation over a Federal District Court’s 2010 decision to reinstate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.

If approved by the court, the settlement offers a path for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return management of the recovered wolf populations in Idaho and Montana to the states while the Service considers options for delisting gray wolves across the Rocky Mountain region, where population levels have returned to biologically recovered levels.

“For too long, management of wolves in this country has been caught up in controversy and litigation instead of rooted in science where it belongs. This proposed settlement provides a path forward to recognize the successful recovery of the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains and to return its management to States and Tribes,” said Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes.

“I am pleased that the negotiations resulted in this important agreement,” said Acting Service Director Rowan Gould. “The proposed settlement has the potential to return management of wolves in Montana and Idaho to the states and tribes and will also enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to use our limited resources to address other species in need of recovery actions.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to address the delisting of wolves in the region in the future as a distinct population segment, rather than on a state-by-state basis. The parties are requesting that the court allow the 2009 delisting to be reinstated in Montana and Idaho on an interim basis, in accordance with approved state management plans, until a full delisting can be completed for the northern Rocky Mountain wolf population. The parties are agreeing that they allow these steps to move forward, up to and including a potential delisting of Rocky Mountain wolves, without resorting to further litigation.

“I want to recognize the great work of Deputy Secretary Hayes, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the entire negotiating team, and all those who worked with us to find a common-sense way forward,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Separate negotiations are ongoing between the Service and the State of Wyoming in an effort to reach agreement on a management plan for wolves in that state. If a mutually acceptable management plan for wolves in Wyoming can be developed, then the Service will be able to proceed with delisting proceedings addressing wolves throughout the northern Rocky Mountains.

The delisting provided for under this agreement does not extend to the small wolf populations in eastern Oregon and Washington, or to Utah, where there are not believed to be any resident wolves. FWS intends to address the longer term status of wolves in Oregon, Washington, and Utah when it issues a new rule addressing status of wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain region. FWS will work with state officials in Oregon, Washington and Utah in the meantime to address any wolf management issues and retains the option to consider reclassifying wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” in those states in order to provide more management flexibility.

The Service and the plaintiffs have agreed to take other actions that will clarify implementation of the ESA and ensure that a recovered wolf population continues to be sustainably managed under approved state management plans. Additional terms of the proposed agreement are available here.

The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. This landmark conservation law has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species across the nation and promoted the recovery of many others.

Additional background information on the settlement is available here.

TERMS OF AGREEMENT

Terms of Proposed Agreement regarding Endangered Species Act (ESA) Protections for Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains

As part of the terms of the proposed settlement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the plaintiffs have agreed to take actions to clarify implementation of the ESA and to ensure that a recovered wolf population continues to be sustainably managed under approved state management plans. The settlement agreement becomes effective only after court approval. The additional actions include:

The parties will jointly ask the federal district court to stay its prior order so as to reinstate, in the states of Idaho and Montana, the 2009 rule removing wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain Region from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The Service will withdraw a September 2007 Department of the Interior Solicitors M-Opinion interpreting the meaning of the phrase “significant portion of its range” under the ESA.

The Service will continue to work with the State of Wyoming to reach agreement on a wolf management plan that provides adequate protection for wolves should they be delisted within the state’s boundaries. Until such an agreement is reached, the Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to manage wolves in Wyoming.

Upon receipt from Wyoming of a mutually acceptable wolf management plan, the Service will publish a proposed rule to designate and delist a Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment DPS) that replaces the 2009 rule.

The Service will base its proposed and final delisting determination on the ESA’s five statutory listing factors and on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available. The Service may, prior to proposing delisting, consider reclassification of wolves that remain on the list within the Northern Rocky Mountains DPS.

The plaintiffs have agreed not to challenge any final rule designating and delisting any DPS prior to March 31, 2016. Further, they have agreed not to petition to list either the Northern Rocky Mountains DPS or any wolf population within the NRM DPS within the next three years.

The Service will continue to monitor the wolf population and gather population data for at least five years. Within four years of the date on which the court approves this agreement, the Service will seek an independent scientific assessment of whether wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains are being managed in a way that reasonably assures the continued presence of a sustainable, genetically connected population of wolves within the Northern Rocky Mountains DPS for the foreseeable future.

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

1. What is being announced today?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reached an agreement with the majority of plaintiffs, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and eight other conservation organizations, to settle ongoing litigation over a Federal District Court‟s 2010 decision to reinstate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. If approved by the court, the settlement offers a path for the Service to return management of the recovered wolf populations in Idaho and Montana to the States while the Service considers options for delisting gray wolves across the Rocky Mountain region, where population levels have returned to biologically recovered levels.

2. What are the terms of the settlement?

(SEE ABOVE)

3. What is the 5-factor analysis contained in the ESA?

Under the Endangered Species Act, a species is added to the list when it is determined to be endangered or threatened because of any of the following factors: The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; Disease or predation; The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; The natural or manmade factors affecting its survival If a listed species is considered for delisting or downlisting, the same analysis of these five factors is performed. If any of these five factors remain as a threat, the species cannot be delisted, although it may be downlisted if the threat or threats have been sufficiently reduced.

4. What is the significance of the phrase “significant portion of the range?”

The Endangered Species Act describes two categories of declining species of plants and animals that need the Act‟s protections – endangered species and threatened species – and provides these definitions:

ENDANGERED – any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range;

THREATENED – any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The ESA contains no explicit definition of what constitutes “significant portion of the range” of a given species. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) must nonetheless interpret this phrase in making decisions to list or delist species. The interpretation is important because it influences the determination about whether a species should be listed or delisted.

5. Why is the Service withdrawing the existing Solicitor’s Opinion interpreting Significant Portion of the Range?

On March 16, 2007, the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior issued a formal opinion, “The Meaning of „In Danger of Extinction Throughout All or a Significant Portion of Its Range,‟” M-37013 UU.S. DOI 2007 (M-Opinion). Under the M-Opinion, if a species is found to be threatened or endangered in only a significant portion of its range, protections are applied only to that portion of the range. The legal interpretation spelled out in the M-Opinion has been rejected by the two District Courts in which it has been argued: Defenders of Wildlife et al. v. Salazar, CV 09-77-M-DWM and Greater Yellowstone Coalition v. Salazar, CV 09-82-M-DWM, concerning the decision to delist northern Rocky Mountain wolves except in Wyoming, and WildEarth Guardians v. Salazar , 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis (D. Ariz. Sept. 30, 2010), concerning FWS‟ 2008 decision on a petition to list the Gunnison‟s prairie dog (73 FR 6660).

6. What happens now? What geographic area is included?

The parties are requesting that the court reinstate the 2009 delisting in Montana and Idaho on an interim basis, with management in accordance with approved state management plans, until a full delisting can be completed for the Rocky Mountain wolf population. The parties are agreeing that they allow these steps to move forward, up to and including a potential delisting of Rocky Mountain wolves, without resort to further litigation.

The delisting provided for under this agreement does not extend to the small wolf populations in eastern Oregon and Washington, or to Utah, where there are not believed to be any resident wolves. FWS intends to address the longer term status of wolves in Oregon, Washington, and Utah when it issues a new rule addressing status of wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain region. FWS will work with state officials in Oregon, Washington and Utah in the meantime to address any wolf management issues and retains the option to consider reclassifying wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” in those states in order to provide more management flexibility.

7. What is the current population of gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains?

The 2010 Interagency Annual Report for the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (NRM DPS) of gray wolves shows little change in the population or distribution of wolves from 2009. The report, which is compiled and released annually by cooperating federal, state and tribal agencies, estimates that the population contained at least 1,651 wolves in 244 packs and 111 breeding pairs at the end of 2010. Current levels exceed the minimum population recovery goal (>300 wolves) and the minimum breeding pair recovery goal (>30 breeding pair). The end of 2010 marked the 11th consecutive year the NRM population has exceeded numeric and distributional recovery goals.

8. Who are the Settling Plaintiffs?

Defenders of Wildlife
Natural Resources Defense Council
Sierra Club
Center for Biological Diversity
Hells Canyon Preservation Council
Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance
Oregon Wild
Cascadia Wildlands Project
Wildlands Network (formerly the Wildlands Project)

9. Who are the non-Settling Plaintiffs?

Alliance for the Wild Rockies
Humane Society of the United States
Friends of the Clearwater
Western Watersheds Project

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: