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Pleadings are a far cry from a verdict


If Wyo can't sue, who can? Casper Star Tribune Editorial  7/26/04

The United States government says Wyoming doesn't have the legal standing needed to sue over the feds' rejection of the state's wolf management plan.

The reaction of Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank was understandable: If Wyoming can't sue, who can?

Crank was rightly troubled by the assertion made by documents filed by the federal government this past week in U.S. District Court.

In order for the gray wolf to be taken off the Endangered Species list, states surrounding the recovery area -- Yellowstone National Park -- are required to have wolf management plans in place that will ensure a sustainable population. To comply with this requirement, Idaho and Montana adopted plans that have since been approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, in January, the agency balked at Wyoming's "dual status" plan, which would establish wolves as trophy game animals only near Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. In the rest of the state, wolves would be given "predator" status, meaning they could be shot on sight, any time of year.

The state's lawsuit alleges that Interior Secretary Gale Norton and the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act in rejecting the state plan, and usurped Wyoming's sovereignty in its implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. government is within its authority to accept or reject the Wyoming plan based on its merit, but it has an obligation to show that there are solid, scientific reasons for that decision.

By rejecting the notion that Wyoming lacks the legal standing to question its decision, the federal government reinforces the belief -- however true or not -- that it is blatantly arrogant with regard to the states its actions affect.

The development of Wyoming's wolf management plan was in reaction to a rapidly expanding wolf population. By Fish and Wildlife's estimates, there were at least 174 wolves in 14 packs living in Yellowstone National Park, and 76 to 88 wolves in eight packs living in Wyoming outside the park by the end of 2003. Critics of the Wyoming plan complain that Wyoming's insistence on dual status for wolves has prolonged the delisting process, allowing more wolves to migrate farther from the intended recovery area.

Now the federal government can share some of the criticism for the delay.

Wyoming is directly affected by the wolf issue, and should have a voice in any decision affecting its people, land or resources. That includes the right to sue when compelled to do so.

Whether they work for the federal government, the state, or the local dog catcher, public officials have a responsibility to behave as servants of the public and not let political sentiments cloud their actions and policies.