United States of America
Biodiversity, Wildlife
In February of 2008, Defendant, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (the "Service"), issued a final ruling to delist the Rocky Mountain gray wolf species, removing the ESA’s protections throughout the northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment ("DPS"), except in Wyoming. Once delisted, the wolves were approved for hunting in Idaho and Montana. Twelve parties challenged the final ruling, arguing, foremost, that the decision violates the ESA by only partially protecting a listed population. Largely, Plaintiffs contended that the Service violated the ESA by originally determining the Rocky Mountain gray wolf to be an endangered species, but thereafter only applying the Act’s protections to one geographical area of the DPS. Defendants, on the other hand, averred that the ESA is ambiguous as to whether the Service can "list" a species and then remove protections for that listed species. Principally, Defendants emphasized that the term "endangered species" under the ESA means "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range." From this language, Defendants concluded that there is no plain statutory language requiring an entire species to be protected as an endangered species. The United States District Court for the District of Montana rejected Defendants’ contentions and issued two findings: (1) the ESA does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a species as endangered, or to protect a listed distinct population segment only in part; and (2) the legislative history of the ESA does not support the Service’s interpretation of the phrase "significant portion of its range," but instead supports the long-standing view that the ESA does not allow a distinct population to be subdivided. Accordingly, the Service’s ruling to delist the Rocky Mountain gray wolf was vacated as invalid and Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment was granted.