Environmental Groups Sue DOI, FWS Over Failure to Make Determination

A suit was filed by a coalition of environmental groups on Tuesday in the District of Montana against the Department of the Interior, its secretary Deb Haaland, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and its director Martha Williams. The complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief alleges that the FWS violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by delaying its determination of the conservation status of the gray wolf.

The plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the Sierra Club.

Under the ESA, defendant FWS is required to make a finding regarding the listing of a species as endangered within 90 days of a citizen petition being filed, the complaint said. On May 26, 2021, the plaintiffs filed a formal petition with the defendants requesting that FWS list a specific population segment of gray wolves.

The complaint explains that human persecution in the 19th and 20th centuries led to “gray wolves in the United States [being] driven to the brink of extinction.” Prior to European colonization, it was estimated that 2 million gray wolves inhabited the United States. However, by the 1970s, less than 1,000 gray wolves inhabited northeastern Minnesota, per court filings. Since then, there have been successful efforts to reintroduce the species into the Rocky Mountain area, according to the plaintiffs.

Most recently, the plaintiffs said, Idaho and Montana changed their wolf hunting and trapping regulations, which led to the species being placed in danger again. Since the wolves are not protected under the ESA, legislation is continually passed that aims to reduce the wolf population. The plaintiffs note that “these laws allow for the use of new – and highly effective – methods to kill wolves, increase the number of wolves allowed to be killed, and lengthen wolf trapping seasons.”

FWS made a positive finding on the plaintiff’s petition, the complaint said; under the ESA, a positive finding means that the service then has 12 months to determine whether the listing of the species as endangered is warranted. The complaint asserts that “though that deadline passed on June 1, 2022, FWS has to date not issued a 12-month finding on Plaintiff’s petition. Consequently, Defendants are in violation of the ESA.”

The complaint cites one violation of the Endangered Species Act, specifically the defendant’s “failure to make a timely 12-month finding for the northern Rocky Mountains or western DPS [distinct population segment] of gray wolves.” The plaintiffs are seeking favorable judgment, an order requiring the defendants to make a determination on whether listing is warranted by a certain date, litigation fees, and any other relied deemed proper by the court.

The plaintiffs are represented in the litigation by Akland Law Firm.