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Wyo sues Interior over wolf documents

Star-Tribune staff writer
Wolves continue to multiply, and trees continue to die for more paper in yet
the newest legal salvo between Wyoming and the federal government over the
reintroduction of Canis lupus.

The Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service in November rejected
the state's wolf management plan, and now Wyoming demands the release of at
least 69 undisclosed records or groups of records to explain the decision,
according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday by Wyoming Attorney
General Pat Crank.

"If the court forces (the Fish and Wildlife Service) to produce the
documents, it shows the fallacy of their rejecting the plan put forward by
the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission," he said.

It's not that the state hasn't tried to get the documents.

On April 22, the state sued the Department of Interior to force it to
immediately approve the state's wolf management plan and move forward toward
delisting the gray wolf in the West.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General's Office corresponded with the department
for four months since January to request the withheld documents under the
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to the complaint.

Crank knows the documents exist based on a Department of Interior list of
correspondence among state and federal officials, he said Friday. The state
already has much of that information.

But Crank doesn't know what the undisclosed documents state, and he's been
increasingly frustrated about getting them, he said.

On May 20, the Department of Interior FOIA Appeals Officer Julia Laws wrote
that the department would deny the state's request to release the documents,
according to an exhibit in the lawsuit.

"The Department hopes, however, that you will defer action until a
substantive decision has been reached on your appeal," Laws wrote.

By Tuesday, the state had deferred long enough.

"We appealed their decision," Crank said Friday. "They never acted on our

Crank signed off on the lawsuit on Wednesday and filed it in U.S. District
Court on Thursday. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Alan

The FOIA lawsuit is the latest round in the decade-long conflict over wolf

In 1995, the Department of Interior reintroduced the gray wolf into
Yellowstone National Park under the Endangered Species Act, and the wolves
multiplied past expectations in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Wyoming's Game and Fish Commission crafted a plan calling for the wolves to
remain protected in the national parks and adjacent wilderness areas, but
would be treated as predatory animals throughout the rest of the state.

Ten of 11 Department of Interior wolf biologists concluded that the plan --
along with Idaho's and Montana's plans -- would protect the wolf, according
to the lawsuit.

The Endangered Species Act, Crank said, requires that decisions about
delisting endangered species must be "based solely on the best commercial
and scientific data available."

But the department and the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the plan on
Nov. 4, 2003, for other reasons.

Crank cited a Jan. 15 statement from Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant
secretary of the Interior, who spoke to the Legislature's Joint Interim
Committee on Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources about the

"From a strictly science perspective, yes, the plans were deemed adequate,"
Crank said, recounting Hoffman's comments. "It's the legal consideration
that prompts us to say no at this time. Our legal analysis was based on
litigation risk management principles."

Crank has no idea what "litigation risk management principles" means, he

Nor does he understand the term "pre-decisional," a term used for 60 agency
documents withheld by the Department of Interior, he said.

These documents were prepared from Sept. 5, 2002, 13 months before the Game
and Fish Commission submitted its plan to the department, through Jan. 23,
2004, three months after the department rejected the plan, according to the

The department also stated that it was withholding nine agency records based
on "attorney-client privilege," according to the lawsuit.

Both of these arguments violate the FOIA, and Wyoming wants the court to
order the Department of Interior to turn over all the records requested by
Wyoming, according to the lawsuit.

Reporter Tom Morton can be reached at (307) 266-0592 or at

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