On March 3, 2017, the D.C. Circuit reinstated the rule promulgated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) in 2012 to remove the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf in Wyoming from the endangered species list under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). Defenders of Wildlife v. Zinke, --F.3d.--, 2017 WL 836089 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 3, 2017). The FWS has been trying to turn over the management of the wolves in Wyoming to the state since 2008, but has faced several reversals at the hands of the courts. This decision reverses a 2014 ruling of the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia that vacated the FWS 2012 rule delisting the gray wolf.
Although the D.C. District Court agreed with the FWS finding that the species had recovered and did not overturn FWS’ determination that the gray wolf is not endangered or threatened within a significant portion of its range, it found fault with the state plan to guarantee the required baseline wolf population. The District Court denied the delisting of the gray wolf because FWS did not require Wyoming to meet a specific numeric buffer above the baseline population but instead relied upon representations in a “non-binding” Addendum to its wolf management plan. On appeal the D.C. Circuit disagreed, and held that nothing in the ESA demands that level of certainty. The Court stated that: