Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rift splits groups fighting to keep wolves on endangered species list


The law firm that represented 13 environmental groups in a successful push to return wolves to the endangered species list has withdrawn from the case because of a rift among the plaintiffs.

Attorneys for Bozeman-based Earthjustice, which represented the 13 environmental groups, filed a motion in federal court in Missoula Wednesday to step aside.

According to Earthjustice attorney Douglas Honnold, some of the plaintiff groups that brought the lawsuit have "established different positions" about how to proceed with the case.

"There will be different lawyers that are going to step in in short order," Honnold said.

Honnold declined to comment on what the "different positions" were among the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Don Molloy ruled in August 2010 that the government made a political decision when it removed gray wolf protections from just two of the states where Northern Rocky Mountain wolves roam.

The decision returned wolves to the list of endangered species under the Endangered Species Act in most states and stopped planned wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho. The ruling was heralded by wildlife advocates and reviled by anti-wolf interests across the nation.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks joined the federal Department of Justice, the state of Idaho, the Idaho and Montana Farm Bureau federations, and the Mountain States Legal Foundation in appealing the ruling last fall.

Since then both sides have tried to negotiate a settlement, but Wednesday’s motion and Honnold’s statement indicate that those negotiations failed to produce an agreement all parties were willing to go along with.

Mike Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said some plaintiffs wanted to settle the case and others did not.

The Alliance, Western Watersheds Project and Friends of the Clearwater refused to settle, Garrity told the Tribune Thursday.

"I believe these other groups will ask Judge Molloy for stay of his ruling which put wolves back on the Endangered Species List. This would mean that wolves could then be shot on sight and the states could have a hunting season on wolves before the wolf population is fully recovered," Garrity said. "We are sticking to our original request that wolf management should be based on science and the law, not politics."

Michael Leahy, Rocky Mountain region director for Defenders of Wildlife, the lead plaintiff in the case, declined to comment. Other plaintiffs in the case also declined to comment Thursday.

According to court documents filed in federal court Thursday, Bozeman attorney Brian Gallik will represent Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Wildlands Network and Hells Canyon Preservation Council.

James Jay Tutchton, of Englewood, Colo., will represent the Alliance and Friends of the Clearwater.

Summer Nelson, an attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, will take over representation of that group.

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