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Montana judge allows Congress to remove wolves from endangered species list

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Montana [official website] ruled [order, PDF] Wednesday that Congress' removal of the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf [Yellowstone Insider backgrounder] from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [materials], not through amending it but through attaching a "wolf rider" to an appropriations bill, was legal. As a result, state hunting quotas to control the wolf population will be allowed in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Judge Donald Malloy, citing a similar Ninth Circuit ruling as binding, declared the move lawful, if not distasteful:

This case presents difficult questions for me. The way in which Congress acted in trying to achieve a debatable policy change by attaching a rider to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 is a tearing away, an undermining, and a disrespect for the fundamental idea of the rule of law. The principle behind the rule of law is to provide a mechanism and process to guide and constrain the government's exercise of power. Political decisions derive their legitimacy from the proper function of the political process within the constraints of limited government, guided by a constitutional structure that acknowledges the importance of the doctrine of Separation of Powers. That legitimacy is enhanced by a meaningful, predictable, and transparent process.
Plaintiffs in the suit, the Center for Biological Diversity [advocacy website] were disappointed [press release] in the outcome: "Although wolf numbers have risen, the job of wolf recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains is far from complete." The Interior Department [official website] also released a statement [text] on Wednesday stating that the wolf recovery plan was a success and hunting can begin anew.

Controversy began over the Northern Rocky Mountains Wolf in 2009, when US Fish and Wildlife Services [official website] removed [federal registrar notice, PDF] them from the ESA, after a controversial Interior Department memo was published that several animals should be taken off the list despite their numbers not being at a sustainable level. However, Fish and Wildlife Services only gave control of the wolf population to state governments in Montana and Idaho, restricting the wolves in Wyoming under Federal guidelines. In August 2010, Judge Malloy ruled that it was improper to remove restrictions in one jurisdiction and not another, and put the wolves back on the ESA entirely. In response, the "wolf rider" was attached to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriation Act of 2011 [materials] bill, which became law in April. This reissued the previous rule, including the restrictions for hunting in Wyoming.

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