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Prelim Injunction Granted against Federal Government for Unpermitted Release of Endangered Wolves in New Mexico

Nossaman’s client, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), successfully obtained a preliminary injunction from the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico halting the release of captive wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) within the State of New Mexico without first obtaining the required importation and release permits.  The Court agreed with New Mexico that the imminent release of wolves within the State amounted to irreparable injury and, furthermore, that federal and state law forbid the USFWS from disregarding State permit requirements.

The dispute began in 2015 when the USFWS submitted two separate applications for permits to release captive-bred wolves into the State of New Mexico which were ultimately denied by the NMDGF.  When the USFWS’s appeal was denied by the NMDGF later that year, the USFWS decided to proceed with the release without the required permits.  The Mexican wolf is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and USFWS has established an experimental population of wolves in the wild in New Mexico by releasing captive-bred individuals and packs.  The USFWS went ahead and released two captive wolf pups, which were placed in a wild wolf den, back in April without authorization, ultimately kick-starting the NMDGF’s pursuit of legal action.

The two agencies are in collaboration on many projects, but in recent years have been in disagreement over the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program.  Nossaman stated that the primary reason for the denial for the State permit was the lack of a comprehensive management scheme due to the fact that the federal plan adopted in 1982 is no longer in effect.  The NMDGF also argued that the law requires components of the Department of the Interior to comply with State permitting requirements.

The Court’s actions prelude that the State is likely to succeed on these claims. The injunction will not prevent continued release of the animals, but requires the USFWS to comply with its own regulations and State permitting requirements.  This decision is one of many that portray a conflict between state and federal regulations in regards to the ESA.

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