Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of Anti-wolf Rider
by Center for Biological Diversity press release
May 7, 2011
The Center for Biological Diversity today (May 5) filed a challenge in federal district court in Missoula, Montana, arguing that a congressional rider requiring removal of Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is unlawful because it violated the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution. The rider was attached to last month’s must-pass federal budget bill by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and marked the first time an animal or plant has been removed from the endangered species list by Congress.
"The wolf rider is a clear example of overreaching by Congress that resulted in the wrongful removal of protections for wolves," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
"The rider is not only a disaster for wolves but for any endangered species that a politician doesn’t like. Congress has set a terrible precedent that we hope to overturn."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today complied with the rider by publishing a rule that removes Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon and Washington, and northern Utah, while retaining protection in Wyoming until state officials there develop an acceptable plan for managing wolves. Wolf populations have only begun to recover in Oregon and Washington, where a very small number of packs have established. In Utah, only individual wolves have been sighted. Wolf numbers are strong in Montana and Idaho, but both states would like to drastically reduce numbers in a misguided attempt to increase elk populations and reduce livestock conflicts. In Wyoming where protections remain, the state would like to declare wolves a predatory animal in large portions of the state where they could be shot on sight.
"The job of wolf recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains is not complete," said Greenwald. "With poaching, planned hunts, and aerial gunning by state agencies, wolves continue to be at risk."
Today’s lawsuit is based on Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the principle of "separation of powers." This principle dictates that the judicial power of the United States lies in the federal courts and not in Congress. In this case, Congress violated the principle by inserting itself into an ongoing legal case brought by conservation groups over the fate of wolves in the northern Rockies.
In August 2010, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula determined that removal of protections for wolves was unlawful because the Fish and Wildlife Service had split the northern Rocky Mountains population along political boundaries, retaining protections in Wyoming, where agency scientists determined wolves remained endangered, but removing them everywhere else. Instead, the court determined protections can only be removed when the whole population is recovered. The case was still pending on appeal when Congress stepped in and ordered a particular outcome: the removal of federal protection for wolves.