U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula gave the Obama Administration, the states, sportsmen and environmentalists all a partial victory in the Rocky Mountain Wolf case today. Only Wyoming, which has been unwilling to meet the minimum management standards Idaho and Montana did, is a short-term loser.
Malloy kept the wolf hunting seasons open in Idaho and Montana but said in the long run he expected to rule in favor of wolf advocates. Here is a closer look at Molloy’s order:
On whether hunting threatens the wolf population Molloy wrote:
“First, to consider any taking of a listed species as irreparable harm would produce an irrational result. The ESA permits incidental takes of a listed species. If the death of a single wolf constituted irreparable harm, no species could be taken before it is delisted. Such a proposition would render the operative provisions of other environmental laws useless. Thus, irreparable injury requires harm “significant” to the “overall population.”
“The Plaintiffs (environmentalists) fail to offer evidence that the DPS will suffer irreparable harm if the Idaho and Montana wolf hunting seasons occur in 2009–even assuming hunters manage to kill 330 wolves. In the absence of scientific proof, Plaintiffs contend the hunts will disrupt travel between the core recovery areas and reduce the chance for genetic exchange to occur. On the other hand, Defendants (federal government) provide affidavits from scientific experts that a wolf population such as the northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment can sustain single season harvest rates in excess of 30%. The wolf hunts here, even if they reach the maximum take in both states, would mean taking about 20% of the
wolf population, well below what scientists believe the population can easily withstand through a one- or two-year hunt. The conservative estimate in the record for the northern Rocky Mountain’s growth rate of 22% is in excess of the two states’ planned kills of 21% of the DPS. In addition, the hunt is
not expected to have any impact on the genetic connectivity of the DPS.”
Molloy said the environmentalists will likely prevail in their case because the federal government changed its legal position on whether it could delist wolves in only part of a distinct population segment.
At issue, Molloy said, “is the difference between a policy change, which acknowledges that politics impact agency action, and statutory interpretation, which presumes the law does not change simply because an administration does. As such, the Service’s claim that its latest proclamation on DPSs should receive deference is not well taken.
“Finally, even if the Service was permitted to delist only a part of a DPS like it has done here, it cannot do so in an arbitrary and capricious manner. The Service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science. That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious.”
I will have a full report in Thursday’s Idaho Statesman.