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Ag groups can intervene in gray wolf lawsuit

US Fish and Wildlife Service gray wolf sitting in grass
NCBA, AFBF and American Sheep Industry granted intervenor status to appeal gray wolf delisting.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Aug. 24 that it will allow a coalition including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council, American Sheep Industry Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation permission to intervene in the case Defenders of Wildlife v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and defend the previous administration’s delisting of the gray wolf.

Since being listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, the gray wolf population has seen tremendous recovery, exceeding recovery goals by 300%. The court document notes that the “coalition’s specific interest in the litigation—ensuring the protection of livestock or compensating for its loss—differs significantly from the interests of the other parties, such as an interest in recreational hunting. Additionally, specialized knowledge is relevant to assessing the effect of state-specific hunting or agricultural regulatory schemes.”

In February 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prematurely removed federal ESA protections for gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states in recent years. The decision restored protections for thousands of wolves, however, ranchers said the action was not driven by the data showing wolves have exceeded recovery goals.

Protections were previously removed for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, and in November 2020 under the Trump administration, FWS announced its decision to remove federal protections for gray wolves throughout the remaining lower 48 states. The decision, which took effect on Jan.4, 2021, affected gray wolves in at least 44 states, most prominently in the western Great Lakes, the central Rockies and Pacific Coast.

“Livestock producers are directly impacted by the species management decisions made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, especially when it comes to species with significant federal footprints. The decision to allow the coalition to intervene in this case demonstrates what we have known all along: livestock producers deserve to have their voice heard on delisting the gray wolf,” says Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of PLC and NCBA Natural Resources. “We look forward to engaging in this case to defend the delisting of a species that has so clearly recovered.”

“ASI is pleased with this action to allow these agricultural organizations to actively participate and seek a positive legal decision that supports our farmers and ranchers,” adds American Sheep Industry Association Executive Director Peter Orwick.

“AFBF appreciates the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for recognizing agriculture’s interest in defending the delisting of the gray wolf. Farmers and ranchers share the goal of a healthy and thriving ecosystem, and when the gray wolf exceeded recovery goals, it became an Endangered Species Act success story,” says American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “With populations now thriving, management of the species should be the responsibility of the states, which can more effectively determine the most appropriate actions to manage gray wolf populations.”

In the decision, the Court of Appeals wrote “the district court abused its discretion by denying permissive intervention.” With intervention granted through the reversal, NCBA, PLC, AFBF and ASIA will now be full participants in the case defending the gray wolf delisting and allowed to appeal a decision from the same lower court that vacated the delisting of the gray wolf.


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