As I predicted many blogs ago, federal judge Donald Molloy -- the go-to guy for eco-extremists looking for a friendly court -- on Friday ordered that reintroduced gray wolves be returned to the endangered species list, ruling that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not delist the animals in two states (Idaho and Montana) while keeping them listed in another (Wyoming).
It's a major disappointment for states were the animals had been delisted, in recognition that the numbers have far exceeded recovery goals (and far exceed what can be sustained in the more heavily-populated "new West"). A few of these states, having assumed management responsibility, last year instituted controlled hunts, in order to keep populations (which have been growing 20 percent a year) in check. But wildlife advocates aren't willing to acknowledge success. They don't trust states to manage the packs. And they hate using hunts as control mechanisms. All they needed in order to monkey-wrench the process, and get their way, is the help of a robed dictator with green-leanings and a lifetime appointment, who sets policy from a federal courthouse in Missoula. Molloy has long been their boy. And he delivered the goods again on Friday.
The ruling may have a silver lining for Colorado, however, since we are operating under a similar "split decision" involving the Preble's meadow jumping mouse. It remains a listed species in this state, but has been removed from federal protections in Wyoming, following a controversy involving its legitimacy as a subspecies. That means Colorado continues to live with the regulatory consequences of the listing, while Wyoming is liberated territory, even though there's no genetic difference between mice in Colorado and mice in Wyoming.
“The Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to list only part of a ‘species’ as endangered …” Molloy wrote in his ruling. “Accordingly, the rule delisting the gray wolf must be set aside because, though it may be a pragmatic solution to a difficult biological issue, it is not a legal one.” And that would seem to demand a second look at the Preble's ruling.
It's possible that any second look at the case would land Wyoming mice back on the list, given the agency's determination to justify, rather than rectify, its mistakes. But it's also possible -- if disinterested and sound science is applied -- that a delisting would occur in both states. I continue to have doubts about the mouse's legitimacy as a subspecies. Some experts believe that they're much numerous than listing advocates say they are.
Challenging the Preble's mouse "split decision," based on this ruling, would at least require another review of the questionable science underpinning the listing. And if it's heard by a judge with more objectivity and common sense than Donald Molloy, we just might stand a chance of success.