Defenders of Wildlife Continues Appeal of Court Order To Remove Yellowstone Wolves

(12/07/1998) - Denver, CO - Defenders of Wildlife filed a reply brief rebutting Farm Bureau arguments in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver today. Defenders is continuing to try to save the lives of more than three hundred gray wolves in the Yellowstone ecosystem and Idaho and Montana. Represented by Brian O'Neill, the attorney who won the Exxon Valdez case for plaintiffs, Defenders is asking the appeals court to reverse a district court order that the wolves must be removed.

Defenders is appealing a December 12, 1997 decision by Judge William Downes of the U.S. District Court in Wyoming. On this second-round brief, the organization is joined by the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Wolf Education and Research Center.

In 1997, Downes ruled in favor of the American Farm Bureau's contention that reintroduction of wolves in the region three years prior was illegal, citing an interpretation of technical language in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). He also ordered the wolves to be removed, staying the order pending expected appeals by the government and others.

"We're appealing not only to save the lives of the wolves but also to secure the future of our nation's most successful wildlife reintroduction effort ever," said Defenders of Wildlife Legal Director Bill Snape. "There is nowhere for the wolves to go if they are removed -- Canada doesn't want them back and the nation's zoos can't accommodate them. Based on an incorrect reading of the Endangered Species Act argued by the Wyoming Farm Bureau, these wolves have received a death sentence," he warned.

Defenders of Wildlife is collecting petitions from visitors to Yellowstone National Park urging the Farm Bureau to drop its suit. Almost four years ago the howl of the wolf had been missing from its historic home in Yellowstone for decades. Starting with the release of the first fourteen wolves brought in from Canada in 1995, the packs in the Yellowstone region alone have grown to a population of 116 animals. Additional wolves reintroduced in Idaho also have flourished to about 122 individuals, and the northern Montana wolf population is between 65-80.

"The Yellowstone wolf restoration project is ahead of schedule and under budget," says Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist and project leader. "The project has proven to yield more benefits and fewer problems than we ever could have imagined. Biologically, we couldn't be doing better," says Bangs. "The project is a resounding success, and this ruling stands to ruin all of the progress we have made."

The crux of Judge Downes' decision was a determination that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should not have reintroduced the wolves as an "experimental population" under the ESA. The "experimental" designation gives federal managers of reintroduced wild species more flexibility to deal with unintended problems, such as allowing relocation of an animal on the infrequent occasions when a wolf preys on livestock. In addition, the Defenders of Wildlife Wolf Compensation Trust reimburses livestock owners at fair market value for such losses.

"Any reading of sound science and administrative law dictates that we allow this unbelievably successful wolf program to continue in the northern Rockies," says Snape.

Even if the Court of Appeals finds that the FWS did not fully comply with the ESA, Defenders argues that "the proper remedy is not to compel FWS to remove, and most likely kill, experimental gray wolves that are currently aiding the recovery of this species."

Noted attorney Brian O'Neill of the Minneapolis-based law firm of Faegre & Benson entered the case on appeal in December on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation and other wolf supporters. O'Neill served as the lead plaintiffs' counsel in the successful historic civil suit against the Exxon Corporation stemming from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.



Ken Goldman, 202-682-9400 x221 (Media)
Bill Snape, 202-682-9400 x232 (Legal)