On Tuesday a group of environmentalists had their day in court in an attempt to restore protective status to some 1,200 gray wolves in the Montana and Idaho Rocky Mountains, Lori Grannis of Reuters reports:
Conservation groups say Congress exceeded its authority by intervening in an ongoing court case to remove the wolves from the endangered species list without bothering to amend the underlying law and by presuming to exclude its action from judicial review.
Jay Tutchton, a lawyer for several groups challenging the delisting, said lawmakers sought to take a "politically expedient shortcut" that violates the constitutional separation of powers between the courts and Congress.
But government lawyers said the delisting effectively amended the Endangered Species Act by making a special exemption for wolf populations in the Rockies.
In August of last year, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, struck down the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempt at delisting the Montana and Idaho gray wolf because the agency had violated the Endangered Species Act by treating Montana and Idaho wolves differently from those in Wyoming. Molloy held that the wolves had to be managed together as a single population due to their proximity to one another. Wyoming gray wolves number in the hundreds, and remain heavily protected.
Phil Taylor, of the New York Times' Greenwire, has more:
Molloy, who last August ruled in favor of the groups in restoring ESA protections, said Saturday that the settlement would have required him to sanction a breaking of the law.
In a 24-page ruling, Molloy said plaintiffs had agreed FWS's delisting rule was based on "an erroneous interpretation" of the statute and that the agency's mistake was "not a technical violation, but amounted to wrongfully removing ESA protections."
"They now ask the court if the wolf in Montana and Idaho -- an endangered species -- can by court action be excused from the ESA's protective provisions," he wrote. "This proposition presents a legal conundrum that goes directly to the ideas behind the rule of law."
Then in April, as a potential settlement between the states and conservationists was underway, Congress stuck a proposal to delist the Montana and Idaho gray wolves into a budget agreement ultimately signed by President Obama. The amendment essentially nullified attempts to reach a settlement agreement in Molloy’s courtroom. The reason given for the proposal was to protect ranchers in the surrounding area, but this marks the first time an animal has been delisted without any scientific research to accompany the delisting. Currently, the respective States are working on plans to allow ranchers to actively hunt gray wolves.
Molloy is now faced with the very same rule of law question he faced almost a year ago, Reuters:
Government lawyer Andrea Gelatt said on Tuesday that Congress was entitled to effectively amend federal laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, by carving out exemptions to them, saying lawmakers may "speak by language of exceptions."
But Molloy, who promised a prompt decision in the case, pressed her on the question of restricting court oversight.
"Then why is it not subject to judiciary review?" he asked. "This indirectly says, 'We don't like the result of this, so we're reversing the court's decision and telling the agency to go ahead and do something illegal.'"
If the previous rulings passed down by Molloy are any indication, the Montana and Idaho gray wolf appear to be destined for the protected list again, but they shouldn’t unpack their bags just yet.