Wolf on the Doorstep of 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Conservationists, Legal Experts In Court To Defend Yellowstone Wolves

(07/29/1999) - DENVER, CO — Conservationists brought a wolf to the doorstep of the federal appeals court here today as judges heard oral arguments in a battle over whether wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park four years ago must be removed. Brian O'Neill, representing Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation and its Wyoming and Idaho affiliates, and the National Audubon Society argued the case, stating that the successful reintroduction is legal, legitimate and necessary. Rami, an ambassador wolf from Mission:Wolf, courted reporters on the courthouse steps following the argument. The groups also presented almost 200,000 signed petitions in favor of keeping the wolves in Yellowstone.

The argument, held before a three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, stemmed from a December 1997 ruling by a Wyoming federal district court judge that the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone and central Idaho is illegal and that all wolves in and around the park must be removed. This ruling, which would most likely result in the death of all the wolves, came from a lawsuit filed by the American Farm Bureau Federation and others. The judge stayed his own order, pending this appeal.

"Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone has been the most popular and the most environmentally justified endangered species reintroduction effort," said O'Neill, a member of Defenders' board of directors and lead plaintiffs' attorney in the Exxon Valdez lawsuit. "Opposition to wolves in Yellowstone has been extremely mean-spirited. However, once the appeals court has reviewed the law and the reintroduction effort, we are confident that it will permit the wolves to stay. They are the capstone to the Yellowstone ecosystem."

"The more entrenched the Farm Bureau becomes in its opposition to wolf recovery, the more the American people speak out in favor of it," said Tom France, counsel for the National Wildlife Federation and Director of the Northern Rockies Natural Resource Center in Missoula, Montana. "We've collected petitions that we've brought here today from more than 30,000 of our own members and from more than 150,000 Defenders supporters imploring Farm Bureau President Dean Kleckner to reconsider his organization's attack on Yellowstone wolves." –more– "We've also received hundreds of letters, many of them from Farm Bureau members like Gail Cutler of Bath, Michigan, who quit her Farm Bureau membership in protest over what she called its 'assault on America's wolves,'" France said.

"Let's not let the Farm Bureau ruin a good thing," said Bob Ferris, Species Conservation Director for Defenders of Wildlife. "The wolves are doing great. They're staying away from livestock except in a few cases where Defenders compensates for any losses. The ecosystem is returning to a more healthy, natural state. Tourism is up and the wolves are adding to the region's economy. Why negate 20-some years of work and lots of money just to start over?" Ferris continued, "We're in this to save the lives of the hundreds of wolves in the park and central Idaho and to save the taxpayers millions of dollars, as well as to maintain the integrity of this incredibly successful program."

Using the experimental designation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 62 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. Experimental designation under section 10(j) of the ESA allows ranchers to shoot wolves if caught in the act of killing livestock on private lands. The 1997 ruling claimed that such designation was illegal and put any naturally occurring wolf populations at undue risk, since a naturally occurring wolf would be fully protected under the ESA. No naturally occurring wolves are in Yellowstone, and any pre-existing wolves in Idaho are flourishing now only because of the tremendous success of the reintroduction program.

If the lower court ruling stands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be charged with physically removing all reintroduced wolves and their offspring from Yellowstone. Canada will not take the wolves back, and territorial issues would preclude such an arrangement regardless. There is not enough zoo space to take even a fraction of the animals, and wild wolves fare poorly in captivity. There is no other appropriate wild space in the United States that could handle a population of wolves such as the one in Yellowstone, and translocating wolves is precarious at best. Therefore, the ruling, if it stands, amounts to nothing short of a death sentence for the wolves.

Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and supporters is a recognized leader in wolf recovery and restoration in the United States. Defenders maintains its $100,000 Wolf Compensation Trust to compensate ranchers, at fair market value, for any losses due to wolves.

The nation's largest member-supported conservation group, the National Wildlife Federation unites people from all walks of life to protect nature, wildlife, and the world we all share. The Federation has educated and inspired families to uphold America's conservation tradition since 1936.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270