Defenders of Wildlife v. Jewell: Wyoming Wolves Receive a Warranted Reprieve-But for How Long?

Date01 May 2015
5-2015 NEWS & ANALYSIS 45 ELR 10447
Defenders of
Wildlife v. Jewell:
Wyoming Wolves
Receive a
for How Long?
by Edward A. Fitzgerald
Edward A. Fitzgerald is a professor of political
science at Wright State University.
In September 2014, a federal district court invalidated
a U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) regulation
delisting wolves in Wyoming. is Article details
the background and history of that litigation, argu-
ing that the court correctly rejected DOI’s conclu-
sion that Wyoming had adequately explained how the
promised wolf population buer would be managed,
and correctly supported DOI’s conclusion that there
is sucient genetic connectivity among wolf popula-
tions in the Northern Rocky Mountains. e court
was mistaken, however, in upholding DOI’s nding
that Wyoming areas outside federal lands and the
state “trophy game” area do not constitute a signi-
cant portion of the wolf ’s range. Defenders of Wildlife
v. Jewell and related federal court decisions have gen-
erated congressional and executive reactions.
I. Introduction
e reintroduction and recovery of the gray wolf in t he
Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) under the Endan-
gered Species Act (ESA)1 has been controversial.2 L ive-
stock and hunting industries, western state and local
governments, and environmental groups have challenged
the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) implemen-
tation of the ESA through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS), which is the agency in DOI responsible
for managing endangered and threatened species. Federal
courts have been called upon to dene the statutory man-
dates and decide whether DOI complied with the law.
One of the central issues in the NRM wolf litigation
has been DOI’s approval or rejection of various Wyoming
wolf management plans from 2004-2014. ese issues
were most recently addressed in Defenders of Wildlife v.
Jewell,3 which invalidated DOI’s regulation delisting Wyo-
ming’s gray wolves as an endangered species, and which
this Article analyzes in detail. Responding to the court’s
decision, the U.S. Congress is considering delisting Wyo-
ming’s wolves and amending the ESA. e Barack Obama
Administration has also proposed delisting the wolf across
much of the United States.
II. Background on Wyoming’s Wolf
Management and DOI’s Role
A. Wolves in Wyoming
Wyoming has str uggled to ma nage wolves in the state. In
2003, it pa ssed a law that treated wolves, once delisted,
as “trophy game” in Yellowstone National Park, Grand
Teton National Park, J.D. Roc kefeller Park way, and U.S.
Forest Service wilderness areas. A trophy ga me designa-
tion allows state a gencies to regulate the method, season,
and number of wolves taken. Most of the named area wa s
useless to wolves because of unsuitable habitat, including
factors such as high elevation, deep snow, and low ungu-
late productivity. Under the state law, wolves in other
parts of Wyoming would only be considered trophy game
if there were fewer than seven pack s outside of national
parks and fewer than 15 pack s in the entire state. Oth-
erwise, wolves outside federal land would be designated
as predators a nd could be taken anywhere without limit
by any means without a license. is posed a signi cant
risk to many packs south and east of Yellowstone, which
1. 16 U.S.C. §§1531-1544, ELR S. ESA §§2-18.
2. , Edward A. Fitzgerald, Delisting Wolves in the Northern Rocky Moun
tains: Congress Cries Wolf, 41 ELR 10840 (Sept. 2011); see generally E
A. F, W, C,  P P: T C 
 N R   N R M (2015).
3. No. 12-1833 (ABJ) (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2014).
Copyright © 2015 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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