Wolves: Related Cases

Case name Citationsort descending Summary
Red Wolf Coalition v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service --- F.Supp.3d ---- 2016 WL 5720660 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 29, 2016) The plaintiffs, Red Wolf Coalition, filed suit against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) alleging that USFWS had violated Sections 4, 7, and 9 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and also failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it allowed for the lethal or non-lethal taking of red wolves on private land. In response to the plaintiffs’ claim, USFWS asked the court to limits its review to the administrative record arguing that any discovery outside the administrative record would violate the Administrative Procedure Act’s scope and standard or review. The court decided not to limit the scope of review, stating that the plaintiffs’ claims fell under the citizen suit provision of the ESA and those types of law suits allow for discovery. Also, plaintiffs made a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop USFWS from conducting or authorizing the take of wild red wolves on private land whether or not the wolf has been a threat to humans, pets, or livestock. In order for the plaintiffs’ to succeed on this motion, the plaintiffs needed to make a clear showing of four elements: (1) plaintiffs’ are likely to succeed on the merits of the claim, (2) plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) the balance of equities tips in plaintiffs’ favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest. The court found that the plaintiffs’ were able to establish the first element because plaintiffs demonstrated that USFWS failed to adequately provide for the protection of red wolves by allowing for the taking of red wolves on private land, which may jeopardize the population’s survival in the wild. Next, the court held that plaintiffs’ were able to establish the irreparable harm requirement based on the fact that the threat to the red wolf population would clearly decrease their ability to enjoy red wolves in the wild and the possibility of the “decline or extinction of the species would cause them to suffer irreparable harm.” Lastly, the court found that granting the preliminary injunction would be in the public interest because “the equitable scales are always tipped in favor of the endangered or threatened species.” For those reasons, the court granted plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.
United States v. McKittrick 142 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. 1998)

Defendant McKittrick shot and killed a wolf in Montana.  Defendant claimed that the federal government's importing of wolves from Canada violated the Endangered Species Act because that Act required that imported "experimental populations" had to be "wholly separate" from any other populations of the same species.  McKittrick claimed that because there had been lone wolf sightings in the area before the wolves were brought from Canada to the Yellowstone region, the new population was not "wholly separate" from an existing population.  The court held that the regulations importing the wolves from Canada were valid because a few lone wolves do not constitute a "population", and that therefore defendant was guilty of unlawfully taking a wolf.

Wyoming Farm Burearu v. Babbitt 199 F.3d 1224 (10th Cir. 2000)

The State Farm Bureaus (a national farm organization)), researchers, and environmental groups appealed from decision of United States and federal agencies to introduce experimental population of gray wolves in a national park and central Idaho. The United States District Court for the District of Wyoming struck down the Department of Interior's final wolf introduction rules and ordered reintroduced wolves removed. In reversing the lower court's decision, the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit held that the possibility that individual wolves from existing wolf populations could enter experimental population areas did not violate provision of Endangered Species Act requiring that such populations remain "geographically separate."  Further, the fact that the promulgated rules treated all wolves, including naturally occurring wolves, found within designated experimental population areas as nonessential experimental animals did not violate ESA.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Jewell 2014 WL 4714847 (D.D.C. 2014) (unpublished) In 2012, a rule transferred management of the gray wolf in Wyoming from federal control to state control. In the present case, plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Fund for Animals, Humane Society of the United States, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club, challenged the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Wyoming. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, and maintained that the decision was arbitrary and capricious because Wyoming's regulatory mechanisms were inadequate to protect the species, the level of genetic exchange shown in the record did not warrant delisting, and the gray wolf was endangered within a significant portion of its range. Given the level of genetic exchange reflected in the record, the Court decided not to disturb the finding that the species had recovered, and it would not overturn the agency's determination that the species was not endangered or threatened within a significant portion of its range. However, the Court concluded that it was arbitrary and capricious for the Service to rely on the state's nonbinding promises to maintain a particular number of wolves when the availability of that specific numerical buffer was such a critical aspect of the delisting decision. The Court therefore granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in part, denied it in part, and remanded the matter back to the agency.
Humane Society of the United States v. Jewell 2014 WL 7237702 (D.D.C. Dec. 19, 2014) (Only the Westlaw cite is available) The Humane Society of the United States sued to overturn the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's 2012 Final Rule to delist the Great Lakes gray wolves from the endangered species list. The US District Court called the 2012 Final Rule "arbitrary and capricious" under the Administrative Procedure Act and in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The District Court thus relisted the wolves and placed them back under the control of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Gordon v. Norton 322 F.3d 1213 (10th Cir. 2003)

Appellants Stephen Gordon and the Diamond G Ranch, Inc. challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service's control of gray wolves introduced under the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan near the Diamond G in the Dunoir Valley of northwestern Wyoming. Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, they filed this action in federal district court alleging violations of the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause and the regulations promulgated under the Endangered Species Act. The district court dismissed the takings claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the ESA claims as not yet ripe for review. This court affirmed the lower court.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior 354 F.Supp.2d 1156(D. Or. 2005)

Plaintiffs challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) "downlisting" of the gray wolf from endangered to threatened status through publication of its Final Rule.  The Final Rule delists the gray wolf in 14 southeastern states based on "listing error" because that region was not part of the gray wolf's historical range.  The court held that the FWS's extension of boundaries of only DPSs in which gray wolf populations had achieved recovery goals to encompass wolf's entire historical range was arbitrary and capricious.  FWS's downlisting of entire DPSs, without analyzing threats to the gray wolf outside of its current range, was inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and thus was arbitrary and capricious. 

Wyoming v. United States Department of the Interior 360 F. Supp. 2d 1214 (Wy. 2005)

 In a letter, the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected Wyoming's wolf management plan due to Wyoming's predatory animal classification for gray wolves.  Wyoming brought claims against the United States Department of the Interior and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act and Administrative Procedure Act.  The District Court dismissed the claims for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning the letter did not constitute final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act. 

National Wildlife Federation v. Norton 386 F.Supp.2d 553 (D. Vt. 2005)

Conservation groups brought action against Final Rule promulgated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify the gray wolf from endangered to threatened in most of the United States.  The Rule created Eastern and Western Distinct Population segment and simultaneously downlisted them from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act [ESA].  The Final Rule deviated significantly from the Proposed Rule and thus failed to provide adequate notice and opportunity for comment to the public, and the court also found the Final Rule an arbitrary and capricious application of the ESA.

Humane Soc. of U.S. v. Dirk Kempthorne 527 F.3d 181 (D.C. Cir., 2008)

The Humane Society of the United States sought an injunction to prevent the lethal depredation of gray wolves. The district court granted the injunction but, while the case was on appeal, the United States Department of the Interior removed the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List.  After the gray wolf was removed from the Endangered Species List, all parties agreed that the delisting of the gray wolf rendered the appeal moot.  The Court of Appeals vacated the district court's ruling.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall 565 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D.Mont., 2008)

The case concerns the delisting of the wolf from the Endangered Species list that occurred in March of 2008. Plaintiffs-Defenders of Wildlife moved for a preliminary injunction, asking the Court to reinstate ESA protections for the wolf. Specifically, plaintiffs argue that even though the Fish & Wildlife Service’s (“Service”) original environmental impact statement (EIS) on wolf reintroduction conditioned the delisting on a finding of genetic exchange between populations, and there is no evidence that such exchange has occurred. Further, the Service approved Wyoming's 2007 wolf management plan even though the Wyoming plan still contains provisions that the Service previously found inadequate. On the whole, the court found that plaintiffs demonstrated a possibility of irreparable harm and granted plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. As a result, the Endangered Species Act protections were reinstated for the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf pending final resolution of this matter on the merits.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall 565 F.Supp.2d 1160 (D. Mont. 2008)

Several wildlife organizations challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation and delisting of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act.  This decision involved a motion for preliminary injunction.   The court found that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits and the organizations and wolves would likely suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction.  Thus, the motion for preliminary injunction was granted.

Humane Society of the United States v. Kempthorne 579 F.Supp.2d 7 (D.D.C. 2008)

Environmental and wildlife organizations brought challenge under the Endangered Species Act [ESA] against a final rule promulgated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS] designating the Western Great Lakes distinct population segment of gray wolves and simultaneously delisting it from the ESA.  The court vacated and remanded the Rule to the Fish and Wildlife Service because the ESA was ambiguous about whether it authorized the FWS to simultaneously designate and delist a distinct population segment.  There was no Chevron deference due.

Humane Soc. of U.S. v. Kempthorne 579 F.Supp.2d 7 (D.D.C., 2008) Environmental groups brought challenge under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) against a Rule promulgated by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) designating a particular geographic group of gray wolves as a “distinct population segment” (DPS) and removing the particular group from the endangered species list. The United States District Court, District of Columbia, held that the ESA is ambiguous with respect to whether the ESA permits FWS to use the DPS tool to remove ESA protections from a healthy sub-population of a listed species, and that the FWS rule was not entitled to Chevron deference, because the plain meaning of the statute is silent and/or ambiguous as to the particular issue at hand and there is no permissible agency construction to which the Court could defer.   Lastly, the Court found that vacatur of the FWS Rule prior to remand was appropriate, because of the FWS’ failure to explain how its interpretation of the ESA comported with the policy objectives of the ESA, and because vacatur would result in very little to no confusion or inefficiency.
Defenders of Wildlife v. Tuggle 607 F.Supp.2d 1095 (D.Ariz.,2009)

In this case, the Plaintiffs, WildEarth Guardians and the Rewilding Institute (Guardians) and the Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders) challenged procedures for wolf control actions as part of the Mexican wolf reintroduction project within the Blue Range Recovery Area (BRWRA) by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Plaintiffs claims centered on NEPA and ESA violations based on USFWS' adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding in 2003(MOU) and issuance of Standard Operating Procedure 13 (SOP). USFWS filed motions to dismiss these claims for lack of jurisdiction because they argued that neither the MOU nor SOP 13 was a final agency action. Here, the rights and responsibilities of the interested parties were spelled out in the 2003 MOU and SOP 13, similar to if USFWS had issued an interpretive rule covering wolf control measures. Thus, the Court found that the 2003 MOU and SOP 13 "mark the consummation of the agency's decisionmaking process in respect to wolf control measures." The Court also found that the plaintiffs presented duplicate claims under the ESA and APA. USFWS's motion to dismiss was also denied as were the duplicative claims.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Salazar 672 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. 2012) Environmental organizations challenged constitutionality of Section 1713 of the 2011 Appropriations Act ordering Secretary of Interior to reissue a final rule removing a distinct gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains from protections of Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Court of Appeals held that the statute did not violate the separation of powers doctrine, and reasoned that Congress amended, rather than repealed, ESA as to delisting of gray wolf by directing Secretary to reissue rule without regard to any other statute or regulation.
WILDEARTH GUARDIANS vs. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE 703 F.3d 1178 (10th Cir. Ct. App.,2013)

In this case, the WildEarth Guardians brought a suit against the National Park Service for violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Rocky Mountain National Park Enabling Act (RMNP)'s ban on hunting. The district court and the appeals court, however, held that the NPS did not violate NEPA because the agency articulated reasons for excluding the natural wolf alternative from its Environmental Impact Statement. Additionally, since the National Park Service Organic Act (NPSOA)'s detrimental animal exception and the RMNP's dangerous animal exception apply to the prohibition on killing, capturing, or wounding—not the prohibition on hunting, the use of volunteers to cull the park’s elk population did not violate the RMNP or the NPSOA.  

Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar 729 F.Supp.2d 1207 (D.Mont.,2010)

In February of 2008, Defendant, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (the "Service"), issued a final ruling to delist the Rocky Mountain gray wolf species, removing the ESA’s protections throughout the northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment ("DPS"), except in Wyoming. Twelve parties challenged the final ruling, arguing, foremost, that the decision violates the ESA by only partially protecting a listed population. The United States District Court for the District of Montana issued two findings: (1) the ESA does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a species as endangered, or to protect a listed distinct population segment only in part; and (2) the legislative history of the ESA does not support the Service’s interpretation of the phrase "significant portion of its range," but instead supports the long-standing view that the ESA does not allow a distinct population to be subdivided. Accordingly, the Service’s ruling to delist the Rocky Mountain gray wolf was vacated as invalid and Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment was granted.

Sierra Club v. Clark 755 F.2d 608 (8th Cir. 1985)

The Government issued regulations which allowed for the sport hunting of the Eastern Timber Wolf  (otherwise known as the gray wolf) in Minnesota, where the wolf was listed as threatened.  The court held that such regulations were invalid because the Endangered Species Act, Section 4(d) required that such regulations must be "for the conservation" of the wolf, which means for the best interest of the wolf.  The court found that the hunting of the wolf in this manner did not have the motive of the best interest of the wolf in mind.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar 776 F.Supp.2d 1178 (D.Mont., 2011)

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 2009 Final Rule unlawfully delisted wolves in Idaho and Montana from the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Rule was vacated. The Court held that it had no authority to decide that it would be more equitable to ignore Congress' instruction on how an endangered species must be protected so that the wolves could be taken under the states' management plans. In addition, the Court held that it was inappropriate for the Court to approve a settlement at the expense of the Non–Settling Litigants' legal interests.

Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall 807 F.Supp.2d 972 (D.Mont., 2011)

Several wildlife organizations filed suit to challenge the FWS's Final Rule delisting the gray wolf Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment.  The case was put on hold pending the outcome of several other legal battles regarding the wolf's status on the Endangered Species List, during which gray wolf protections were reinstated.  Then, after Congress passed the 2011 fiscal year budget which contained a provision requiring the FWS to delist the Northern Rocky Mountain DPS, the court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Wyoming Farm Bureau v. Babbitt 987 F.Supp. 1349 (D. Wyoming 1997)

The Wyoming Farm Bureau, amateur researchers, and environmental groups appealed an agency to introduce experimental population of gray wolves in a national park and central Idaho. After ruling on the various standing issues, the court held that the ESA section allowing experimental population to be maintained only when it is "wholly separate geographically" from nonexperimental populations includes overlap even with individual members of nonexperimental species.   However, the defendants' treatment of all wolves found within boundaries of designated experimental population areas as nonessential experimental animals was contrary to law as provided in their own regulations.   Therefore, the court ordered that Defendants' Final Rules establishing a nonessential experimental population of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, central Idaho and southwestern Montana was unlawful.   Further, that by virtue of the plan being set aside, defendants must remove reintroduced non-native wolves and their offspring from the Yellowstone and central Idaho experimental population areas.  This decision was reversed in 199 F.3d 1224.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected v. State, Dep't of Nat. Res. Not Reported in N.W.2d2016 WL 6905923 (2016) Plaintiff, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP), appealed an order of the Court of Claims concluding that PA 281 does not violate Michigan's Constitution or statutes, and the granting of summary disposition in favor of defendants, the State of Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Natural Resources Commission. The issue began in 2011 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species, returning management of wolf populations to Michigan. In 2012, the governor of Michigan signed PA 520 into law, which added the wolf to the definition of "game" animals. Plaintiff KMWP organized a statewide referendum petition drive to reject PA 520 at the November 4, 2014 general election, which would have rendered PA 520 ineffective unless approved by a majority of voters. In 2013, Michigan's Governor signed into law PA 21 and PA 22, which granted the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) authority to manage wolves. In addition, the laws also gave qualified members of the military free game and fish licenses. Another petition drive was initiated by plaintiff and required signatures were collected to place the issue on the November 2014 ballot. However, in December 2013, before this, Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management (CPWM) circulated a petition to initiate the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Management Act also known as PA 281. This new law would reenact PA 520 and 21, giving the NRC authority for designating game animals, offering free military hunting and fishing licenses, and appropriating $1 million to manage invasive species. In May of 2014, the CPWM certified this initiative petition and submitted directly it to the Legislature to enact or reject the law. The Legislature adopted the law, which became known as PA 281. Notably, at the November 2014 election, a majority of voters rejected PA 520 and PA 21. Regardless, PA 281, which included the voter-rejected designation of the wolf as a game species, was signed into law and the NRC designated wolves as a game species effective March 2015. Following this, plaintiff filed the underlying complaint that challenged the constitutionality of PA 281, specifically that it violated the Title–Object Clause of Michigan's Constitution, Const 1963, art 4, § 24, which states that (1) a law must not embrace more than one object, and (2) the object of the law must be expressed in its title. The Court of Claims granted defendants' summary disposition motion, holding the the general purpose of PA 281 is to “manage fish, wildlife, and their habitats” and that all of the law's provisions relate to this purpose, and concluded that the law did not violate the single-object requirement of the Title–Object Clause. The Court of Appeals found that some provisions of PA 281 did not violate the Title-Object Clause including (1) free licenses to military and (2) appropriating $1 million to respond to the threat of invasive fish species. However, the court did find that the free licenses to members of the military has no necessary connection to the scientific management of fish, wildlife, and their habitats violating the single-object rule of the Title-Object Clause. While the court noted that there is a severability option with provisions of laws that violate the Title-Object Clause, the court cannot conclude the Legislature would have passed PA 281 without the provision allowing free hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses for active members of the military. Thus, this provision cannot be severed from PA 281, and, consequently, the court found PA 281 is unconstitutional. The court noted that its decision rests solely under an analysis of the Michigan Constitution and related cases. However, the court noted that plaintiff's assertion that the initiating petition by defendant put "curb appeal" of free military licenses and invasive species control to "surreptitiously" reenact a provision that would ensure wolves would be on the game species list was an "accurate" assessment. The court even said that PA 281 "conjures up images of a Trojan Horse, within which the ability to hunt wolves was cleverly hidden." The order granting summary judgment for defendants was reversed and the matter was remanded.