August 19, 2005

Feds Ordered to Improve Wolf Protection

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- A federal judge Friday ordered the Bush administration to step up efforts to restore the gray wolf to four northeastern states, a ruling environmentalists called a major victory.

"The wolves are howlin'" in celebration, said Patrick Parenteau, director of the environmental law clinic at Vermont Law School. Parenteau, lead attorney in the case, said his students "did all the hard labor in the case. It's a nice victory for our students."

Judge J. Garvan Murtha, sitting in the U.S. District Court for Vermont, found that the Department of the Interior violated federal law in 2003 when it issued a rule saying no further efforts to restore the wolf were needed. The ruling covers Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York state.

Efforts to restore wolves had been successful in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The government wanted to lump those states in with the Northeast in a new, 21-state eastern region, and declare that enough had been done to restore wolf populations throughout the eastern United States.

But Murtha wrote that the Fish and Wildlife Service "simply cannot downlist or delist an area that it previously determined warrants an endangered listing." Murtha said, the government's plan "lumps together" the population of the upper Midwest "with a low to nonexistent population outside the core area."

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman, Diana Weaver, said agency officials would not be available immediately for comment.

Environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation and state groups in Vermont, Maine and New York, joined in the lawsuit. They argued that good wolf habitats exist in northern Maine and in New York's Adirondack Mountains, and that northern Vermont and New Hampshire likely would become an important corridor for wolves migrating between those two habitats.