And then the lawsuits piled up
... For one wolf expert, handling litigation has evolved into a lifestyle
Originally published Tuesday,
December 28, 2004
By Michelle Dunlop
HELENA, Mont. -- For the last 10
years, people curious, upset or elated about wolves in the Rocky Mountains have turned to
one man: Ed Bangs.
"I feel like if you throw a nickel in my mouth, I'll give you the wolf spiel," Bangs said.
Bangs left a dream position in Alaska for Montana and his claim to fame as the wolf recovery leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The position took him out of the field and put him into an office.
"Now, I'm just an administrator/bureaucrat," Bangs said. "If you look at the wolf guys, we're a bunch of bitter, old men."
The process of wolf recovery didn't simply begin a decade ago when wolves were reintroduced to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Instead, a number of years, studies and lawsuits led up to that one momentous day in January 1995 when wolves bounded back into the Rocky Mountain West.
"When it started out, it was just a tiny program, run out of the back of a pickup truck," Bangs said.
But wolves have garnered big-time attention -- not all positive. Instead, much of that attention has come in the form of lawsuits. The amount of money, resources and time invested in lawsuits have lead many to speculate that litigation has done nothing but prolong the inevitable -- residents learning to live with wolves and states learning to manage the species.
Today, the Fish and Wildlife Service is now involved in at least five active lawsuits.
"Everyone just blasts with both barrels," Bangs said. "They're just hoping that one sticks."
In the autumn of 1994, the Fish and Wildlife Service published its final rule in the Federal Register declaring wolves an experimental population in Idaho, Wyoming and southern Montana.
The lawsuits began to pile up.
Wolf opponents, such as the American Farm Bureau, sued to stop reintroduction. The organization objected to introducing a "nonnative" species in Idaho. Additionally, the group asserted that wolves already existed in Idaho, so reintroduction wasn't necessary. At the same time, the Sierra Club sued to get more protection for wolves.
"The litigation on the reintroduction went on for five years," Bangs said.
In 2002, when the Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted gray wolves from endangered to threatened, the agency was slapped with another round of litigation.
Defenders of Wildlife launched one of the lawsuits. Suzanne Stone, Defenders spokeswoman, said that the Fish and Wildlife Service wants count the wolf population in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming toward population levels in the rest of the West.
"There's not a viable population in any of these other states," Stone said.
Because wolves historically inhabited other portions of the West, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to consider population levels in those states separately and manage accordingly, she said.
The latest bout of litigation surfaced after the Fish and Wildlife Service rejected Wyoming's management plan. The state of Wyoming sued in order to see information that the federal agency calls classified. Interest groups as well as Clark County, Wyo., have followed with additional suits. Litigation over Wyoming's plan will likely stretch out over the next three to five years unless the lawsuits are dropped, Bangs said.
"The status quo will remain in effect until that litigation is complete," he said.
Despite the fact that much of his time gets sucked into legal documents and litigation rather than helping wolves and the people who are affected by the creatures, Bangs remains upbeat about the process.
"Nobody is above the law," he said. "Lawsuits are expensive, but wait until you're on the short end of the stick."
"Wolves are so symbolic to people," Bangs continued. "Every wolf thing gets litigated. And that's not a bad thing."
Times-News reporter Michelle Dunlop can be reached at 735-3237 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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