Author: Damien M. Schiff
On Tuesday, Judge Donald Molloy of the District of Montana, in Defenders of Wildlife v. Salazar, denied a prelimary injunction motion filed by several environmental groups seeking to stop gray wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the Northern Rockies gray wolf distinct population segment (DPS) in those states, but retained protections for DPS members in Wyoming. The environmentalist plaintiffs challenged that decision, principally on the grounds that the Service has no power to delist only portions of a listed species; rather, the Service must list or delist according to the entire unit in play—be it a species, subspecies, or, as was the case here, a DPS.
In denying the preliminary motion injunction, Judge Molloy ruled that the standard equitable analysis for entitlement to an injunction, most recently applied by the Supreme Court in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council under the National Environmental Policy Act, should likewise be applied in Endangered Species Act cases. Although Judge Molloy ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Service acted illegally in delisting only a portion of the wolf population, the court nevertheless denied the preliminary injunction because the plaintiffs had not established that the wolf population would be irreparably harmed by the wolf hunts. The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the death of a single wolf necessarily constituted irreparable harm; indeed, the court emphasized that an injunction should not automatically issue for every violation of law.
Although the wolf hunts will continue this month, it's likely that once the court addresses the issue again in a full merits hearing, the court will side with the plaintiffs. In its ruling, not only did the court find that the plaintiffs would likely succeed on the merits, it also concluded that the balance of harms weighs in their favor, and that the public interest would be served by an injunction.