On April 25, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a decision issued a few months ago by a New Mexico federal district court in a case filed by the State of New Mexico against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The appellate court reversed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction that temporarily prevented the FWS from releasing wolves into New Mexico without the state's permission. SCI filed an amicus brief in that case in support of New Mexico.
The Tenth Circuit based its decision solely on a determination that New Mexico had not shown sufficient "irreparable harm," which was required for the district court to prohibit the FWS from releasing wolves into the state while the parties litigate the case. The appellate court made no determination about the merits of the case—whether the FWS could legally release wolves into the state without state approval. The Tenth Circuit sent the case back to the district court for a determination as to the legality of the FWS’s actions. News reports released soon after the ruling offer statements from New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish that the state intends to continue to pursue their challenge in federal district court in New Mexico. Arizona’s Game and Fish Department’s website reports that Arizona too is considering the ramifications of the Tenth Circuit’s ruling.
The Tenth Circuit's ruling came just one day before SCI participated in a hearing on its own challenge to the rule designating the Mexican wolf experimental population in New Mexico and Arizona. SCI's case was one of four presenting oral argument before an Arizona federal district court judge on April 26. Two of the cases, filed by animal rights organizations, challenged that the revised Mexican wolf regulation, adopted by the FWS on January 15, 2016, has not gone far enough to recover wolves. SCI's suit, and one filed by several counties and ranchers, presented several arguments about why the regulation is illegal. A particular focus of SCI's case is that the rule is invalid because it does not follow Congress' intention that rules for experimental populations like Mexican wolves be the product of agreements with affected states and landowners. SCI’s position is that the regulation is invalid because New Mexico’s wildlife management authorities did not agree to the provisions of the rule.
In a hearing lasting an entire afternoon, Judge Jennifer Zipps of the Arizona federal district court heard the presentations offered by the numerous plaintiffs, defendants and intervenors in the four cases. SCI presented its own arguments and responded to the challenges and defenses argued by the FWS and animal rights attorneys. As in most cases, it was impossible to tell from the judge's comments and questions how she will rule on all the cases. Due to the complexity of the issues, she likely will not issue a ruling for some time.
Please continue to follow Crosshairs and SCI’s social media for updates on this important case.