Court Ruling on Western Great Lakes Wolves

By Glen Wunderlich

On August 1, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed both sides of the battle to manage Western Great Lakes (WGL) wolves a victory. Impossible? It all depends. The anti-hunting throng celebrates the fact that WGL wolves must remain on the endangered species list. Sportsmen, on the other hand, now have a way forward to delist wolves in areas where a distinct population segment (DPS) is undeniably recovered.

“Folks in the animal-rights community would like believe that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a one-way ratchet. In their world, you can only put species on to the Endangered Species List based upon a distinct population segment. However, we know that this is not how the ESA is written,” continued Heusinkveld. “This distorted view of the DPS policy is simply emblematic of their view of the ESA as a whole. They view this as a means to enshrine federal protections in perpetuity, as opposed to a tool to help those in need recover and be returned to state management.”

Although the court’s ruling did not change the current status of the WGL wolves, the opinion included some positive elements for sportsmen. For example, the court of appeals held that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has the authority to delist a recovered population segment of a species that the Service had previously listed as endangered or threatened throughout a larger area.

The court agreed with the FWS’s interpretation of the Endangered Species Act because “to alter the listing status of segments rewards those States that most actively encourage and promote species recovery within their jurisdictions.” This important element of the court’s determination has broad implications and will assist with the delisting of other recovered populations of more broadly listed species.

Folks at the Humane Society of the U.S. et al. cling to a vestige of a previous Washington D.C. court’s ruling to protect all wolves, even though specific areas of their range are more than recovered according to established goals. In true form and typical HSUS’ speak, it uses some of the following terms to describe ethical hunting with language meant to garner support from followers: reckless killing programs, fear-based killing programs on wolves, trophy hunters, and killing spree, to name a few.

In this latest case, Safari Club International (SCI) joined as a defendant-intervenor along with the NRA, Sportsmen’s Alliance, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, Upper Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

For the Western Great Lakes wolves, the fight is not over. The court’s ruling presents several options for an eventual WGL wolf delisting that include the following avenues:

a)  The FWS proposing a new rule that addresses the problems identified by the court.

b)  The Defendants and Defendant-Intervenors in the lawsuit (FWS, States of Michigan and Wisconsin, SCI, NRA and Sportsmen’s Alliance) petitioning for a review of this ruling “en banc” (i.e., by the full D.C. Circuit) and/or by the U.S. Supreme Court.

c)  Congress passing a law that would direct the FWS to delist the WGL wolves (as Congress has already done for the wolves of Montana and Idaho).

So, grab some more popcorn before the show resumes.