Defenders Vows to Fight Court Ruling on Wolf Recovery

(12/15/1997) - WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Defenders of Wildlife vows that it will fight a court order issued Friday for removal of wolves from Yellowstone and central Idaho "all the way to the Supreme Court" if necessary because the removal order "could become a death sentence for the wolves."

After reviewing the decision by Judge William Downes of the U.S. District Court in Casper, Wyoming, Defenders of Wildlife said it not only will join the Interior Department in an appeal, but also take more immediate action within the next week to ask the judge to review and reverse his decision. Parties have ten days after a ruling to file a motion for reconsideration.

In making the announcement, Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen stressed that, "We have found several legal bases for challenging the judge's decision. The reality is that removal could become a death sentence for the wolves--where would they be moved? These wolves have become symbols across America and the world of a more enlightened way of dealing with the natural world. Our phones are ringing off the hook --the American public has embraced the Yellowstone wolves and will not stand for dismantling this program. We will fight all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary and we will win."

Defenders of Wildlife, a leader in the Yellowstone reintroduction and other wildlife restoration efforts, pays ranchers for loss of livestock to wolves--the rate of which has been low. Before the release of wolves imported from Canada in early 1995, litigation was filed against the Interior Department in an attempt to block the reintroduction. Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation and others intervened on behalf of the department against the Farm Bureau. The judge's ruling combined what were originally three different suits, which has caused some confusion. However, Defenders' Legal Director William Snape emphasizes that, "Although there has been confusion about the highly technical legal issues decided under the Endangered Species Act, the American people and the environmental community are united in their desire to keep wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho."

Judge Downes concludes that he is "mindful of the dedication, talents and money which have been expended in the development and implementation of the wolf recovery program" and that he reaches his conclusion "with the utmost reluctance."

Nonetheless, Defenders of Wildlife thinks Judge Downes' solution is wrong. The organization's northern Rockies representative, Hank Fischer, terms this ruling "a miscarriage of common sense. The wolves are reproducing well, mortality is low, livestock losses are minimal; this is a success story. Why ruin it?"

Schlickeisen notes that three years ago, conservation groups joined Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the late U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie and other leading supporters of wolf reintroduction in a vigil at the gates of Yellowstone while waiting for the lifting of a court-ordered delay slapped against wolf reintroduction.

He recalls that, "When the first wolves that had been languishing in their crates were released and first hit the soil in Yellowstone, it was the start of a new era in American conservation history. The public has followed the birth of each litter of pups and the death of each wolf lost like family news. The judge has waited three years after the first motion for preliminary injunction seeking a halt to the wolf release was filed by the Farm Bureau. But there's no going back now. These wolves are the legacies of Mollie Beattie and others. We will make sure that they are allowed to remain in the wild for the enjoyment of future generations."



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270