By Natalya Estrada
The Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center filed a motion Tuesday to intervene in a lawsuit in which two farming groups are disputing the endangered status of the gray wolf.
“The California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau don’t represent the views of all farmers and ranchers,” EPIC program and legal coordinator Tom Wheeler said Wednesday. “Most folks realize that wolves are back in California and that they are here to stay.”
Currently, there are nine known gray wolves in the state.
Wheeler said EPIC intervened in the lawsuit because it doesn’t want the case to have any chance of winning.
“Their whole lawsuit is bologna — a grand slam swing with nobody on base,” Wheeler said.
On Jan. 30, the California Fish and Game Commission was challenged by the California Cattlemen’s Association and the California Farm Bureau for listing the gray wolf under the California Endangered Species Act in June 2014. The listing did not officially take effect until Jan. 1 of this year.
The California Fish and Game Commission’s legal council, Mike Yaun, said the commission acted appropriately when listing the wolf. Yaun would not comment further on the issue because it is considered pending litigation.
Wheeler said he doesn’t think the wolf would have significant impacts on the farming industry as a whole.
“There’s this anti-wolf feeling, kind of like the ‘big bad wolf effect’ which gives them notoriously bad PR,” Wheeler said. “The wolf suffers from a reputation that is incredibly unfair because wolves are generally afraid of humans and don’t attack them. If we’re going to have predators in our landscape, then we need to change the narrative.”
Attorney Damien M. Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau in the case, said in a statement the listing was destructive as a matter of public policy and created dangers for Northern California ranchers, farmers and their local economies.
“If gray wolves begin to establish themselves after a long absence from California, regulators should be working with landowners on balanced policies that can protect sheep, cattle, and people with minimal harm to wolves,” Schiff said. “Instead, the rigid regulations under an ‘endangered’ listing hamstring property owners and make cooperative solutions impossible.”
He said the agency labeled the species as endangered while ignoring its populations outside of California and that the wolves in question are not native species of the state, but actually native to Canada.
“The Fish and Game Commission took a big bite out of its own credibility with this unjustified listing,” Schiff said. “The agency managed to label the gray wolf as ‘endangered’ only by myopically and illegally ignoring its populations outside California.”
The listing, they argue, is based on flimsy evidence — triggered by a single wolf (OR-7) crossing the Oregon border in 2011.
California Cattlemen’s Association Director of Government Affairs Kirk Wilbur said the whole point of the lawsuit was not to pit ranchers against wolves, but instead to develop a better plan for wolf management.
“The goal of this lawsuit is to provide more flexibility on wolf management for the commission, ranchers and farmers,” Wilbur said. “There’s a lot of misconception that we want open season on wolves, and that’s not true. We hope that after, (the commission) will revise their conservation plan into a management plan and that no longer will ranchers have to stand idly by as wolves attack their livestock.”
Represented by Earthjustice, EPIC and its allies in the case — the Center for Biological Diversity, Cascadia Wildlands, and Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center — have countered the lawsuit as baseless.
Amaroq Weiss, West Coast Wolf Organizer for Center for Biological Diversity, said gray wolves were senselessly wiped out in California and deserve a chance to survive in the state.
“We’re intervening to defend the interests of the vast majority of Californians who value wolves and want them to recover,” Weiss said. “All of the science and law considered by the commission pointed to listing gray wolves under California’s Endangered Species Act, and the commission made the correct decision.”