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Nessel Files Brief in Lawsuit Against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Decision to Delist Gray Wolves

LANSING -- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have submitted an amicus brief in the Wolf Delisting litigation fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (the Service) decision to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species. Nessel previously urged the Service not to use Michigan's successful recovery efforts of the species to delist the gray wolf nationwide, but the Service did just that. This brief argues that the Service made this move contrary to the Endangered Species Act and to the detriment of gray wolf populations in other states.

The brief - filed Friday in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California - asserts that the Service unlawfully delisted gray wolves based on the species' status in Michigan and other Great Lakes states. This is improper for three reasons: 

  • The Service must look to a species' current range, i.e., where it currently exists, to determine whether it is endangered; 
  • The Service must analyze the five statutory factors for delisting for each state in which a species is actually located; and  
  • The Service may not break a species into recovered populations in a way that cuts out orphan populations that would otherwise be entitled to protection.   

"By delisting the gray wolf nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its obligation to protect endangered gray wolves wherever they are found. Turning cooperative federalism on its head, the Service weaponized our effective wolf recovery in the Great Lakes region against wolf populations struggling to recover in other states," said Nessel. "The facts are clear here: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can only use Michigan's successes in Michigan, not nationwide. Where wolves remain endangered, they must remain listed."

In the brief, Nessel argues that the Endangered Species Act does not authorize the Service to pick and choose where endangered species should recover. In fact, the Service must protect the gray wolves where they are also currently found - in Washington, Oregon, California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Kansas.

In 2019, Attorney General Nessel asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to abandon its proposal to delist the gray wolves, citing that it failed to analyze whether the gray wolves living in more than a dozen other states were in danger of extinction. Instead, the federal government focused irresponsibly and unlawfully on Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Service finalized its proposed rule and as a result, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list nationwide in 2020. A legal battle is currently underway, thus prompting the filing of this amicus brief by the attorneys general of Michigan and Oregon.

A copy of the submitted brief is available here.