Mexican Wolf Wins in Court; Yellowstone Wolf Case Still Pending

(10/28/1999) - Albuquerque, New Mexico - The U.S. District Court issued a judgment on Thursday, October 28, in favor of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program, dismissing the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association's attempt to stop the program.

“This is a victory not only for the wolves but also for conservationists who are fighting the American Farm Bureau Federation’s attempts to reverse wolf reintroductions in the Southwest, in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and wherever else reintroductions may be proposed in the future," said Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen.

In a 48-page opinion, Senior U.S. District Judge Mechem ruled in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the dozen intervenors, including Defenders of Wildlife, on all counts.

"This is a great day for wolves in New Mexico and Arizona," said Susan George, State Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. "The decision vindicates the hard work of the Fish and Wildlife Service in putting wolves back in their rightful place - in this case, into the forests of the Southwest."

Grove Burnett and Matt Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center represented Defenders of Wildlife and the other intervenors.

The plaintiffs' suit was based on several unfounded arguments, including that wolves already existed in the recovery area and that the wolves being released were not truly wolves, but wolf-hybrids. The Cattlegrowers Association added a third argument in January – that wolves take food away from Mexican spotted owls, from which ranchers "derive substantial aesthetic enjoyment."

Judge Mechem found that scientists have evidence that the wolves are not hybridized and that wolves were absent from the Southwest for decades before reintroduction there beginning in 1998. Finding that none of the Cattlegrowers Association’s claims had any merit, the court summarily dismissed the claims and ordered the case terminated.

Still pending before an appeals court in Denver is another Farm Bureau-inspired lawsuit against wolves -- challenging earlier reintroductions of gray wolves into the Yellowstone ecosystem and Idaho.

Under the Mexican wolf reintroduction program, currently approximately two dozen Mexican wolves remain in the wild despite a higher mortality rate than the Yellowstone wolves. Before the program’s first release of Mexican wolves into the Blue Range Recovery Area of Arizona in January 1998, “El Lobo" had been missing from the wild for more than 17 years, having been hunted and slaughtered indiscriminately. Defenders President Rodger Schlickeisen joined Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and others in bringing the first Mexican wolves back to the wild last year.

Mexican wolves once were prominent throughout the wildcards of the Southwest. In the early 1900's, a livestock-industry-driven campaign evolved into a federal extermination program that resulted in the wolf’s near extinction. Defenders of Wildlife addresses the only possible threat posed by the wolves by compensating livestock owners for any livestock lost to wolves under the organization’s Wolf Compensation Trust. Losses to wolves are relatively rare compared to other causes of livestock mortality.

Nonetheless in March 1998, the New Mexico Cattlegrowers Association, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau (an affiliate of the Farm Bureau) and several other groups filed suit challenging the reintroduction.

Defenders of Wildlife and a dozen other conservation groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, National Parks and Conservation Association, Sierra Club/Rio Grande chapter, Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Guardians, Animal Protection of New Mexico, and Wildlife Damage Review, joined the lawsuit as intervenors in late 1998.

To help with the initial phases of reintroduction, Defenders provided full- time wolf guardians as assistants to the Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department. Defenders also helped to create a $50,000 reward fund for information about the deaths of several wolves killed.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270