Courts & Crime

Judge rebukes Fish and Wildlife Service over gray wolf protections

Saying “enough is enough,” a federal judge on Friday rebuked the Fish and Wildlife Service and reinstated federal protections for the gray wolves found in the Great Lakes region.

In a highly detailed, 111-page decision, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell concluded the federal agency incorrectly removed the wolf from federal Endangered Species Act coverage.

“This law reflects the commitment by the United States to act as a responsible steward of the Earth’s wildlife, even when such stewardship is inconvenient or difficult for the localities where an endangered or threatened species resides,” Howell wrote.

Acknowledging that “the gray wolf is also a lightning rod for controversy,” Howell noted that questions about its protections predate the 1973 ESA. Caught amid competing political and natural resource priorities, officials have struggled to find a workable balance.

Since 2003, the Fish and Wildlife Service has promulgated rules to remove federal protections under the ESA for the gray wolf population four times. The first three times, the agency rescinded the proposed rule “delisting” the gray wolf, twice on the orders of federal courts and once on its own initiative when facing another likely legal challenge. The latest lawsuit challenged the agency’s attempt, which took effect in January 2012.

“ rule challenged in this action is no more valid than the agency’s three prior attempts to remove federal protections for a population of gray wolves,” Howell wrote, adding that the agency’s effort was “predicated on both an untenable reading of the ESA and otherwise flawed findings.”