Breaking! California Gray Wolves Are Still Protected Under The Endangered Species Act After Judge Rejects Challenge By Farming & Ranching Groups

Lassen pack wolf pup photo from California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A state court judge maintained protection for gray wolves under the California Endangered Species Act, after rejecting a weak challenge by a coalition of farming and ranching groups that were calling for the animals’ status to be revoked.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Cascadia Wildlands Center were represented by Earthjustice in the case.

Pacific Legal Foundation argued and lost the case on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation.

“The Pacific Legal Foundation’s case was the worst kind of grasping at straws,” Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity’s West Coast wolf advocate, said in a statement. “This is a great result for the vast majority of Californians who want wolves to recover, and who understand their importance to healthy ecosystems.”

The groups had challenged gray wolves’ endangered species status based on the erroneous claim that the wolves in California are the wrong subspecies. They also wrongly argued that the listing was improperly based on a single wolf’s presence, and that wolves can’t be endangered in the state as there are plenty elsewhere in the world. Obviously all of these claims are false.

In 2011 a wolf known as OR-7 crossed the border into California from northeastern Oregon, becoming the first confirmed wild wolf in the state in 87 years. The Foundation had argued, however, that OR-7 was from a subspecies that never existed in California. Not true!

The court rightly concluded that the California Fish and Game Commission has the authority to list the species level, and that OR-7 and subsequent wolves that have come into the state share a genetic history with wolves that once were widely distributed across California.

“State protections for wolves are critical, given the animosity toward the species at the federal level,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “It is a shame that this species, and many others, have been subjected to these political games.”

The court found that the state’s endangered species law protects species at risk of extinction in California, and the commission need not consider the status of gray wolves globally. It found that threats to wolves necessitate their protection and the commission has the discretion to protect native species that were historically present based on visitation by even one animal, given the wildlife agency’s projections that more will likely arrive.

“Wolves are not yet close to recovered in California. At a time when the Trump administration is hostile to endangered species conservation, it is critically important that the state of California help recover wildlife like the iconic gray wolf,” said Joseph Vaile, Executive Director of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center.

California has seen the establishment of two packs since OR-7 made his star appearance before returning to Oregon to settle down with a mate. The Shasta pack was discovered in 2015 but by mid-2016 had disappeared. The Lassen pack was confirmed in 2017 and produced pups for the second year in a row in 2018.

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