A federal appeals court said Congress acted legally when it removed Endangered Species Act protections for Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves. File photo. UPI/Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo | License Photo
SAN FRANCISCO, March 15 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court said Congress acted legally when it removed Endangered Species Act protections for Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves.
A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that when Congress ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to lift protections for the Northern Rockies population of gray wolves last year, lawmakers were amending a law and did not violate the separation of powers, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
The 9th Circuit is headquartered in San Francisco.
In 2009, the fish and wildlife agency lifted most protections for wolf species in the Northern Rockies, saying the region's population had grown enough to be considered recovered.
Environmental groups sued the agency and a U.S. District Court reversed the Fish and Wildlife Services' decision.
Then, Congress attached a rider to an appropriations act, ordering the Interior Department to reinstate the Fish and Wildlife Services' rule. Environmental groups then sued the Interior Department alleging Congress violated the separation of powers doctrine.
"This case had very little to do with wolves and a lot to do with the Constitution," said attorney James Tutchton of WildEarth Guardians, one of the plaintiffs.
Lawmakers "switched some winners to losers," he said. "That's what's dangerous. They could do that to anybody on any issue."
But, the the 9th Circuit panel rejected the claims, citing a Supreme Court decision in a case involving congressional action that allowed some timber harvesting in protected spotted owl habitat.
Conservationists also argued removing Endangered Species Act protections threatens the recovery of gray wolves, which number at an estimated 1,774 wolves in 287 packs in the area.