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Thu, Oct. 17

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in trouble for not protecting Mexican gray wolf

Mexican gray wolf (File photo)

Mexican gray wolf (File photo)

PHOENIX — A federal judge has swatted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for not doing enough to ensure there is a viable population of the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico.

In a 44-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps cited repeated instances where the agency ignored the advice of “leading wolf scientists’’ in adopting its own recovery plan. And the judge said Fish and Wildlife officials acted in an “arbitrary and capricious’’ manner in deciding what to do.

“Moreover, this case is unique in that the same scientists that are cited by the agency (in crafting the plan) publicly communicated their concern that the agency misapplied and misinterpreted findings in such a manner that the recovery of the species is compromised,’’ Zipps wrote. “To ignore this dire warning was an egregious oversight by the agency.’’

The judge ordered the agency to come back to court within 30 days and provide her a deadline of when it would have a revised — and legally acceptable — plan.

Agency spokesman John Bradley had no comment, saying the ruling is being reviewed by legal staff.

But Timothy Preso, the attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case, called this a significant victory.

“This ruling offers hope that the Mexican wolf can be pulled back from the brink of extinction before it is too late,’’ said Preso who filed a lawsuit challenging the agency rules on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife. “The judge made clear that management of the lobo must follow the law and the science on Mexican wolf recovery instead of giving in to the political demands of wolf foes.’’

Those “foes’’ also were represented in the case, with Zipps consolidating the arguments of environmental groups with those who found their own flaws with the wolf reintroduction plan.

That included the Arizona Game and Fish Department as well as business groups and governments in the area which the wolf reintroduction is taking place. The latter group said they were not properly consulted and objected to the limits imposed on when ranchers are able to kill a wolf they say is threatening their livestock.

Zipps clearly sided with those who said Fish and Wildlife Service is not doing enough.

She said the federal Endangered Species Act reflects the desire of Congress to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, “whatever the cost.’’ And she said that law requires federal agencies “to use all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which measures provided by the ESA are no longer necessary.’’

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