CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Lawyers for the federal government and several pro-hunting organizations have joined the state of Wyoming in urging a federal judge not to allow a coalition of environmental groups to drop a lawsuit challenging recent federal action turning wolf management over to Wyoming.
The coalition, led by WildEarth Guardians, last week moved to dismiss its lawsuit pending before U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne. A lawyer for the coalition said recently it's putting its support behind a similar lawsuit that other environmental groups are pushing in Washington, D.C. Wyoming officials accused the environmentalists of forum shopping.
Environmental groups in both the Wyoming and Washington lawsuits have challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's move last year to turn over Wyoming wolf management to the state government. The groups say the state's management plan, which classifies wolves as unprotected predators that can be shot on sight in most of the state, fails to afford them adequate protection.
Hunters have killed scores of wolves in Wyoming since the state took over management in October. State officials now say they intend to reduce regulated trophy hunting quotas for wolves this fall to prevent populations from possibly falling low enough to trigger a return to federal management.
Colorado lawyer Jay Tutchton represents WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups in the Wyoming suit. He said last week the groups were dismissing their case because they decided it wasn't an efficient use of resources to have two lawsuits over the same thing going on in two different places. An attempt to reach him for comment Thursday wasn't successful.
The Wyoming Attorney General's Office on Monday asked Johnson not to allow WildEarth Guardians and the others to drop their lawsuit, accusing them of forum-shopping.
Cheyenne lawyer Harriet Hageman represents the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, which includes several Wyoming county governments along with agricultural and sportsmen groups. She filed papers on Tuesday also asking Johnson not to dismiss the case.
"This court's involvement in this matter is simply too important to allow for the type of shenanigans that are evident in the petitioners' efforts to 'dismiss' this action," Hageman wrote.
Safari Club International, a pro-hunting group, and the National Rifle Association both have intervened in both the Wyoming and Washington, D.C., wolf lawsuits to support Wyoming's continued wolf management. The groups this week also asked Johnson not to dismiss the Wyoming lawsuit.
Lawyer Jay Jerde with the Wyoming AG's Office wrote to Johnson this week noting that WildEarth Guardians had originally filed its lawsuit in Colorado after the Washington lawsuit was filed. He said WildEarth Guardians apparently were not worried then about any inefficiency in having two parallel lawsuits running on the same issue until a federal judge in Colorado transferred the case to Johnson's court early this year.
Johnson ruled in 2010 in an earlier lawsuit that the federal government had been wrong to insist that the state rewrite an earlier version of its wolf management plan to give wolves more protection.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who's presiding over the Washington D.C. case, last month declined a request from Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to transfer it to Wyoming. She stated that the issue of ending federal protections for wolves in the state is one of great national significance.
On Thursday, Hageman said it's apparent to her that WildEarth Guardians and the other groups don't want Johnson to hear the case. "It is important," she said. "Judge Johnson previously upheld the Wyoming plan, and we believe he should be given an opportunity to evaluate it again."
Anna Seidman, is director of litigation for Safari Club International in Washington, D.C. She said Thursday that her group believes WildEarth Guardians and the other groups should be required to continue the lawsuit they started.
"The district court in D.C. called this an issue of national concern, but it's also an issue of Wyoming concern," Seidman said. "So we would like to see that the case remains open to be litigated in a Wyoming court."