Judge upholds state protections for endangered gray wolves

SAN DIEGO — A judge in San Diego Monday upheld protections for gray wolves under the California Endangered Species Act, rejecting a petition from ranching agencies challenging the animals’ designation as wildlife at risk of extinction.

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon rejected a motion filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation.

In 2011, a wolf officially known as “OR-7” entered California from northeastern Oregon, becoming the first confirmed wild member of the species in the state in 87 years. The foundation’s legal action claimed, however, that the animal was from a subspecies that had never previously existed in California.

In his ruling, Sturgeon denied the plaintiffs’ request for declaratory relief, dismissing their contention that the state Fish & Game Commission’s classification of the species as one native to California was an “abuse of discretion.”

“The listing decision based upon the presence of a (single) wolf (that) later became part of a breeding pair … was not arbitrary or capricious,” the judge wrote. “Petitioners’ evidence does not support the (argument that) the commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction by listing the gray wolf (as endangered) based upon an intermittent presence of one wolf.”

The ranchers groups also contended that gray wolves could not be endangered in the state, since they are plentiful elsewhere in the world.

The judge disagreed, finding that California’s endangered-species law need not take into account the global status of animal populations when deciding which ones require protection in the state.

The court further found that threats to the wolves necessitate their protection and that the game commission has the discretion to protect native species that have been present historically based on visitation by even one animal, given scientists’ projections that more will likely arrive.

“The commission’s determination was based on scientific evidence and is entitled to deference,” Sturgeon asserted.

The ruling drew praise from the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit agency that works to protect endangered species through legal action, scientific petitions and other forms of activism.

“We’re so glad the court got it right and kept protection in place for California’s recovering gray wolves,” said Amaroq Weiss, the organization’s West Coast wolf advocate. “The Pacific Legal Foundation’s case was the worst kind of grasping at straws. This is a great result for the vast majority of Californians who want wolves to recover and who understand their importance to healthy ecosystems.”

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