United States Can Release the Wolves, 10th Circuit Says

DENVER (CN) — Ending a long dispute with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 10th Circuit ruled Tuesday that New Mexico failed to prove that releasing two Mexican gray wolf pups into the wild would irreparably harm its wildlife management.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish asked the 10th Circuit in January to uphold a preliminary injunction barring Fish and Wildlife from releasing Mexican gray wolves into the wild without a state permit. U.S. District Judge William Johnson had granted the preliminary injunction in June 2016, agreeing that Fish and Wildlife had improperly released the wolves without a state permit two months earlier.

U.S. Circuit Judges Jerome Holmes, Scott Matheson and Carolyn McHugh reversed and vacated the preliminary injunction Tuesday.

Fish and Wildlife released the wolves in April 2016 after New Mexico refused both of its permit applications in 2015. The state claimed it could not grant the permits because it could not determine whether the wolf releases would conflict with the state’s conservation management programs.

At the January hearing, McCrystie Adams with Defenders of Wildlife argued for Fish and Wildlife, saying New Mexico was inhibiting the “maximum practical cooperation” needed to continue the federal recovery program.

The program has been rehabilitating the wolves since 1998, and because the Mexican gray wolf remains endangered, Fish and Wildlife said it did not need a permit because timeliness was crucial to the species’ survival.

McHugh wrote in the 39-page opinion that New Mexico had not presented “sufficient evidence to support a finding that it is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction.”

“Even when making the reasonable assumption that an increase in wolves would lead to increased predation, nothing in the record before the district court indicates that the FWS releases would disrupt the predator-prey balance or harm the Department [of Game and Fish]’s ability to manage the ungulate herd populations,” the ruling states.

“For example, assuming arguendo that the Department is correct in asserting, for the first time on appeal, that a Mexican wolf may kill over twenty elk and deer per year, the Department offered no evidence that the release of one, ten, fifty, or even one hundred additional wolves would affect the overall populations of the state’s ungulate herds or necessitate action from the Department in order to manage and maintain those populations.”

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish spokesman Lance Cherry told reporters the state would continue to pursue the case in New Mexico District Court.

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