Suit Argues Rider Affecting Northern Rockies Wolves Is Unconstitutional
LOS ANGELES— Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity and partners argued in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this morning that a congressional rider that removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers doctrine. The rider was attached to a must-pass spending bill in April and has allowed the states of Montana and Idaho to permit hunts aimed at drastically reducing wolf populations. Conservation groups are seeking to restore protections for wolves.
“Congress clearly overstepped its bounds in stripping federal protections from gray wolves,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “The rider is not only a disaster for wolves but for any endangered species that a politician doesn’t like. Congress has set a terrible precedent that must be overturned.”
In August, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy reluctantly upheld the constitutionality of the rider based on existing case law, but made clear his disapproval of the rider, stating that if he were not constrained by precedent, he would rule that the rider “is unconstitutional because it violates the Separation of Powers doctrine . . . .” Judge Molloy described the rider as “a tearing away, an undermining, and a disrespect for the fundamental idea of the rule of law.” Today’s argument seeks to clarify the precedent that bound Judge Molloy.
“The Endangered Species Act rightly put scientists, not politicians, in charge of deciding which species get protection and which don’t,” Greenwald said. “Keeping politics separated from those decisions helps ensure a fair process driven by legal standards and scientific expertise.”
The rider, approved in April, marked the first time that politicians in Congress, rather than scientists, removed a plant or animal from the endangered species list. The rider removed protections for wolves in Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon and Washington, and northern Utah. Although wolf numbers have risen dramatically in Idaho and Montana, wolves are only beginning to recover in the other states affected by the rider.
With protections lifted, the state of Idaho has authorized a hunting and trapping season with no limit on how many wolves can be killed and has only committed to maintain 150 wolves out of an estimated population of at least 1,000. Montana has set a hunting quota of 220 wolves with a goal of reducing the population from an estimated 566 wolves to 425 — a 25 percent decline. In Oregon where the wolf population includes 25 wolves at most, state wildlife officials killed two wolves earlier this year and planned to kill two more, but have been temporarily stopped by a state lawsuit filed by some of the same plaintiffs in the appeal argued today.
“Wolves once roamed most of North America, but because of intolerance and persecution were wiped off the map,” said Greenwald. “This same intolerance persists today. The job of recovering wolves is far from complete.”