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Wyoming Farm Bureau Fed'n v. Babbitt

Citation: 30 ELR 20289
No. Nos. 97-8127 et al., 199 F.3d 1224/49 ERC 1985/(10th Cir., 01/13/2000)

The court holds that the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI's) final rules governing the reintroduction of a nonessential experimental population of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho did not violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court first holds that although individual wolves may leave Canada and Montana and enter the experimental population area, the rules do not violate ESA § 10(j)'s requirement that experimental populations of an endangered species be wholly separate geographically from nonexperimental populations of the same species. The DOI's interpretation of the geographic separation requirement is consistent with the language and objectives of the ESA. The DOI defined "population" as a potentially self-sustaining group in common spatial arrangement and, thus, determined that a "geographic separation" is any area outside the area in which a particular population sustains itself. These definitions preclude the possibility of population overlap as a result of the presence of individual dispersing wolves. Similarly, the court holds that the DOI reasonably interpreted the phrase "current range" to be the combined scope of territories defended by the breeding pairs of an identifiable wolf pack or population. ESA § 10(j) requires that an experimental population be established outside the current range of that species, and Congress defined "species" to constitute distinct, interbreeding population segments or subspecies, not individual animals.

The court next holds that the DOI reasonably exercised its management authority under § 10(j) in defining the experimental wolf population by location instead of animal origin. The DOI intentionally identified the experimental population as all wolves found within the experimental areas, including imported wolves and any lone dispersers and their offspring. Nothing in the ESA invalidates this approach by requiring the protection of individuals to the exclusion or detriment of overall species recovery or by otherwise limiting the DOI's flexibility and discretion to manage experimental populations. The court also holds that the DOI did not fail to adequately consider the impacts of reintroduced wolves on naturally occurring subspecies of wolves in violation of ESA § 7. Ample evidence supports the DOI's determination that the subspecies no longer exists. Last, the court holds that the DOI did not violate NEPA. The challengers to the rule failed to show a lack of substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the DOI's conclusions or that the final environmental impact statement was otherwise inadequate.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Timothy S. Bishop
Mountain States Legal Foundation
1660 Lincoln St., Ste. 2300, Denver CO 80264
(303) 861-0244

Counsel for Defendants
M. Alice Thurston
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Holloway and Henry, JJ.