Federal Court Moves To Protect The Red Wolf Population Against The Federal Government

There was an important victory for the environment this week after Chief Judge Terrence W. Boyle excoriated the Interior Department for its management of the the last red wolf population in the wild.  His decision could well have kept the red wolves from extinction — against the best efforts of the Interior Department to allow landowners to wipe out the only remaining members of this incredible breed of wolves.  The orders of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were a disgrace and utterly disregarded their duty in protecting the environment.  The case is Red Wolf Coalition v. United States, 2018 U.S. Dist. Lexis 188522. 

The actions of the Interior Department directly contravened the intent of Congress and prior assurances from officials.  Boyle issued a temporary injunction issued against Fish and Wildlife’s shoot-to-kill authorization in 2016 and it is now permanent. He ruled that the government must establish that a wolf is a threat to humans or livestock before it can make a decision to take its life.

He noted that it was the agency itself that reversed the success of the early efforts to protect the wolf population:

“The Red Wolf Program having been declared a success in 2007, defendants, beginning in approximately 2014 and without consultation or formal review, determined to disregard management guidelines which had been in place since 1999 which distinguished between pro bl em and non-problem wolves in regard to landowner take requests, to cease introductions of wolves into the wild, to cease pup-fostering, and to cease actively attempting to manage the threat from coyotes on the viability of the wild red wolf population. While a shift in any one or some of these activities may fall within the agency’s discretion, when taken together, these actions go beyond the agency’s discretion and operate to violate USFWS’ mandate to recover this species in the wild. As defendants point out, due to a number of factors, including gunshot mortality and the increased presence of coyotes, the wild red wolf population began to gradually decline starting in 2006, but more than 100 red wolves remained in the wild in 2012-2013. See [DE 88 at 322]. Notably, however, the wild red wolf population saw a drastic decrease from 2013 to 2015, with only approximately fifty wolves in the wild in 2015. See PI. App. 739. The population decrease coincides with defendants’ making internal revisions tO its guidelines and management policies, in response at least in part to mounting public pressure against red wolf recovery efforts, and defendants have failed to proffer any other evidence which could be deemed responsible for such change.

Allowing the wild red wolf population to continue to decline, while having access to methodologies which were previously successful in increasing or maintaining the wild population of the species, is an interpretation and application of the red wolf 1OG) rule that “is so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise.” Motor Vehicles Mfrs., 463 U.S. at 43. It is undisputed that the reintroduction of the red wolf into the Red Wolf Recovery Area is not without its challenges, but absent a change in Congress’ mandate or a decision to delist or reclassify the red wolf under the ESA, the recent USFWS decisions to discontinue successful population management tools while increasing the likelihood that landowner lethal takes will be approved for wolves which historically would not have been subject to take, amount to a failure comply with its affirmative duty to “carry out conservation measures until conservation [is] no longer necessary.” Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Vi/sack, 276 F. Supp.3d 1015, 1031 (D. Nev. 2017); see also Deft. of Wildlife v. Tuggle, 607 F. Supp. 2d at, 1116-17.  Defendants’ argument that their current red wolf management efforts are sufficient and within their discretion fails. While agencies might have discretion in selecting a particular program to conserve “…they must in fact carry out a program to conserve, and not an “insignificant” measure that does not, or is not reasonably likely to, conserve endangered or threatened species, To hold otherwise would turn the modest command of section 7(a)(l) into no command at all by allowing agencies to satisfy their obligations with what amounts to total inaction.” Fla. Key Deer, 522 F.3d at 1147. Moreover, as was aptly stated by USFWS in 1999, “[w]ildlife are not the property of landowners but belong to the public and are managed by Federal and State governments for the public good. Such concepts and laws do not provide for taking or removal of wildlife from private lands in the absence of a problem.” PL App. 730. 

Defendants themselves have stated that actions such as those it has already undertaken would require compliance under ESA Section 7 and NEPA, PL App. 977, and there is no doubt that defendants’ decisions to cease wolf introductions while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of authorized lethal takes by landowners “may adversely affect an endangered or threatened species”. Ctr. for Biological Diversity, 538 F.3d at 1220 (quoting 40 C.F.R. §1508.27(b)(9) and noting that action would trigger NEPA compliance if this factor is present).

In sum, plaintiffs’ have satisfied their burden to demonstrate the above-described actions of defendants were arbitrary and capricious and otherwise violated Sections 9, 4, and 7 of the ESA as well as NEPA.”

I will not deny my love for the outdoors influenced my judgment but I find the actions of the Interior Department in this area to be reprehensible.  Only 35 wolves remain in the five-county managed area and federal officials did their level best to wipe them out.  This decision gives these magnificent animals a fighting chance.

21 thoughts on “Federal Court Moves To Protect The Red Wolf Population Against The Federal Government”

  1. There is no red wolf. Genetic testing has shown it to be part gray wolf, and part coyote. Currently they breed freely with coyotes. Biologists can be classified as splitters or lumpers. Splitters declare every variation of an animal a subspecies or species. Lumpers call them all one species. Genetics has caused much grief amongst splitters.

  2. Interesting paragraph from the referenced article:
    “Notably … the red wolf population saw a drastic decrease from 2013 to 2015,” with only 50 wolves remaining, Boyle wrote. “The population decrease coincides with … making internal revisions to its guidelines and management policies in response at least in part to mounting public pressure against red wolf recovery efforts.”
    *********
    “… in part to mounting public pressure against red wolf recovery efforts.” Does it mean that the local population of humans was exercising its right to seek redress of grievances from its government but was stymied by the actions of a federal judge? May a judge substitute his sensibilities for those of the affected citizens and curtail the their rights simply because he favors managing the nuisance red wolf in a way he prefers? Looks like JT wasn’t the only lawyer who let his “love for the outdoors” influence his judgment.

  3. “The Red Wolf Program having been declared a success in 2007, defendants, beginning in approximately 2014 and without consultation or formal review, determined to disregard management guidelines which had been in place since 1999 which distinguished between pro bl em and non-problem wolves in regard to landowner take requests, to cease introductions of wolves into the wild, to cease pup-fostering, and to cease actively attempting to manage the threat from coyotes on the viability of the wild red wolf population. While a shift in any one or some of these activities may fall within the agency’s discretion, when taken together, these actions go beyond the agency’s discretion and operate to violate USFWS’ mandate to recover this species in the wild.”
    *************************
    Is this legal analysis or commentary on agency policy? If the latter, is the judge deciding the overall effectiveness of agency decision-making? Is this the proper role of an unelected judge or is it in the exclusive realm of the Congress who funds and oversees the agency? Agencies deserve deference in decision-making as they enjoy the delegated authority of Congress. Does a judge have the wildlife management expertise to conclude that “when taken together, these actions go beyond the agency’s discretion…” to conserve the red wolf population?

        1. No. Your missive ended with a question. I answered it.

          Similar issues arise frequently here in the Pacific Northwest.

  4. A genetic study of the Red Wolf found it may be an ancient hybrid between the Gray Wolf and coyote. That is probably why they are red, due to the ruddy coloring of the coyote.

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/2099192-red-wolf-may-lose-endangered-status-because-its-just-a-hybrid/

    “The eastern and red wolves showed no evidence of independent ancestry; their genomes could be explained solely by admixture between coyotes and grey wolves.

    Previous, less comprehensive studies have found genetic and morphological reasons to recognise these wolves as separate species, and others have shown that they seem to be hybrids. Wayne’s study is unlikely to settle the matter. However, it is the highest-resolution look at the problem so far, says Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.”

    If the new data is accepted, the Red Wolf is screwed, because federal law does not protect hybrids.

    The Red Wolf may have environmental value, because the coyote is more adaptable to coexisting with humans. What is interesting is that first gen coyote/gray wolf hybrids tend to be more aggressive towards humans, but the Red Wolf is shy.

    http://www.timberwolfinformation.org/updates/redwolf/info.html

    This may lead to an interesting discussion on the evolution of species. If a hybridization occurred long ago, and the resulting fertile hybrid was genetically isolated long enough to become distinct, is that sufficiently far enough in the process of establishing a new species to be protected? Gray Wolves, Red Wolves, Coyotes, and Domestic Dogs are all close enough to interbreed and create fertile offspring, and yet all are considered very different.

    I think the value of the Red Wolf should be considered regardless of its genetic relationship with the Gray Wolf and Coyote. Perhaps the law will need to be changed to protect such crosses if they occurred long enough ago to be considered its own separate species. Would it lose its species status if it is proven to be an ancient interbreeding between two distinct species? It may be time for science and legislation to catch up. After all, the Canis genus includes several species that can interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and yet are still considered separate species. They are all related. How far back does the family tree have to branch to be considered a species?

    1. I would add the the hunting behavior of the Red Wolf, singly or in pairs, is also that of the coyote. They hunt, and then noisily reunite to discuss, loudly, the events of the evening. The is one of the reasons why the coyote is called the Prairie Song Bird. There may be something to the hybrid theory, but it would be a shame if it led to the downfall of the Red Wolf.

    2. oh, karen, be careful about taxonomy, you know, species is “socially constructed”
      it sounds like you may be intent on discrimination against hybrids perhaps?
      search your soul for heresy!

  5. Is the authority in Article 1, Section 8?

    Congress shall have the power to tax for Canis Rufus as “…general Welfare…?”

  6. (music- Jerry Jeff Walker song)
    Well.. its Up Against The Wall Red Wolf Mothers!
    Mothers who have raised their sons so well.
    She’s 24 and living in honky tonks..
    Kickin hippies asses and raising hell.

  7. The wolves have (obviously) been there since way before Jamestown. The problem must be rooted in the fact that North Carolina has been one of the fastest growing states for the last several decades.

  8. It should be noted that this is an Obama scandal. It should also be noted that the Interior Department was inserting wolves without notifying the state as they were supposed to. I agree that the Interior Department mismanaged the program, but it may be at a point where it cannot be rectified. I am not sure the judge made the right decision for the right reasons.

    1. “It should also be noted that the Interior Department was inserting wolves without notifying the state as they were supposed to.“

      Link, please. No linky, you stinky.

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