2003-2005 Legal Challenge Maintains Protection for Wolves in the Northeast
The gray wolf once roamed across the entire North American continent, including the northeastern United States. Extirpation of the wolf in the late 1800s removed the top predator from an ecosystem that features ample populations of moose and deer.
Biologists believe that restoration of the wolf will help control the populations of these large browsing animals and provide other ecological benefits. In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the gray wolf from endangered to threatened in the Northeast and eliminated the proposed Northeast Distinct Population Segment, virtually terminating any gray wolf recovery efforts in the region.
The National Wildlife Federation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Maine Audubon Society, and the Maine Wolf Coalition (represented by Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic) alleged various violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act, stemming from the federal government’s Final Rule to Reclassify the Gray Wolf. On August 19, 2005, the U.S. District Court for Vermont invalidated the rule and remanded it to the FWS for reconsideration (National Wildlife Federation v. Norton, 386 F. Supp.2d 553 (D.Vt. 2005)).
According to the Wolf Conservation Center’s Fall 2005 Newsletter (p.2), U.S District Court Judge Garvin Murtha in Brattleboro, VT, ruled on Aug. 19, 2005 that the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act when it reduced protection for gray wolves across the 48 states in 2003. From the article,
“…National Wildlife Federation successfully argued that the administration improperly declared victory for gray wolf recovery based solely on the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes wolf populations, violating its Endangered Species Act obligation to recover endangered species across a “signiﬁcant portion” of their historic range.
National Wildlife Federation also successfully argued that the administration violated its own Endangered Species Act policy on protecting “distinct population segments” and violated its legal obligation to obtain public comment on removing Endangered Species Act protection from the Northeast portion of the wolf’s historic range.”
This ground-breaking lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service successfully challenged the attempt of the Bush Administration to walk away from a multi-year effort to restore the endangered gray wolf in the Northeast.