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Ag groups sue California over listing gray wolves as endangered

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The Pacific Legal Foundation has filed suit on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation against the state’s Fish and Game Commission, challenging the 2014 decision to list gray wolves as endangered in California.

SACRAMENTO — Two farm groups are suing the state Fish and Game Commission over its 2014 decision to list the gray wolf as endangered in California.

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed the action Jan. 31 in the San Diego superior court on behalf of the California Farm Bureau Federation and California Cattlemen’s Association.

The groups contend the listing was based on flimsy evidence, as it came after a single wolf — OR-7 — wandered into the state in 2011; that regulators undercounted the wolf’s population by looking only at its numbers in California; and that it shouldn’t be covered under California’s Endangered Species Act because it is a non-native species.

The groups further argue the listing, which took effect Jan. 1, puts ranchers’ livestock at risk by taking away what they consider reasonable measures to ward off wolf attacks.

“(T)here are better ways than through the gray wolf’s listing to protect the wolf while preserving the livelihoods of California ranchers,” PLF attorneys Damien Schiff and Tony Francois wrote in the complaint.

They noted that the CCA and Farm Bureau have been “active participants” in a state Department of Fish and Wildlife-established working group to develop a wolf recovery plan for California.

“But the wolf’s listing will undercut any value such a plan might otherwise have by substantially limiting the department’s management discretion and foreclosing various livestock production measures that (ranchers) might otherwise pursue,” the attorneys wrote.

California Secretary of State Xavier Becerra’s office referred inquiries to the Fish and Game Commission, whose spokeswoman, Jordan Traverso, did not immediately respond to messages from the Capital Press seeking comment.

A legal challenge was widely anticipated after the commission’s 3-1 vote on June 4, 2014 to list the species despite Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation that the wolf not be listed yet because no packs had become established in California.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups requested the petition in 2012 shortly after the arrival of OR-7, the first known gray wolf in California. That wolf later returned to Oregon and mated and produced pups, but another pack became established in far Northern California.

“I think they’re really tilting at windmills with this lawsuit,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity’s west coast wolf organizer. “The arguments they’re making appear to be pretty baseless.”

The PLF argues that never before had a listing been initiated by a single animal’s occasional wanderings into the state, and that the commission failed to consider that the wolf’s overall status has improved to the point that the federal government has considered removing it from its own “endangered” list.

On whether the gray wolf is a native species under the law, the foundation acknowledges there is evidence that Great Plains and Mexican wolves once were present in California. But there is no evidence the Northwestern wolf subspecies, which includes the wolves introduced into Idaho that spread into Oregon and Washington, ever lived in California, the attorneys assert.

Weiss countered that the Department of Fish and Wildlife had already been studying wolves for about two years before OR-7 appeared and that the state was preparing for the species’ eventual re-entry into California.

She said that between OR-7’s pack and the Shasta Pack, there are at most about 10 wolves in California. And as for the wolf’s origin, she pointed to research that shows at least three different subspecies of wolves lived in California before the 1920s and that believes the state’s endangered species law is consistent with the federal law, which only considers species and not subspecies.

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