The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that WildEarth Guardians (WEG) does not have standing to challenge the Department of Justice’s McKittrick Policy, a victory for SCI and hunters across the United States.
WEG filed suit in U.S. District Court in Arizona to challenge the Department of Justice’s practice of choosing not to pursue criminal prosecution of individuals who accidentally shoot federally protected species when intending to hunt a different, non-listed species. This practice is known as the McKittrick Policy.
The McKittrick Policy is particularly relevant for hunters of coyotes in wolf range, black bears in grizzly range, alligators in crocodile range, etc. While the policy applies to all ESA prosecutions, Mexican wolves were the only species at issue in the litigation.
Although SCI believes that all hunters should know the biological identity of what they are shooting before they pull the trigger, criminal prosecution is not warranted in instances of true misidentification. For that reason, SCI intervened in the case to defend the policy.
In June 2017, after several years of litigation, the district court ruled that the policy violated the Endangered Species Act.
SCI, the DOJ and the other defendant-intervenors in the case (represented by Pacific Legal Foundation) appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit. One of SCI’s three primary arguments was that WEG did not have standing to challenge the policy. No evidence supported the argument that the policy resulted in fewer prosecutions, or more importantly, that overturning the policy would result in fewer Mexican wolf deaths.
During oral argument in early October, the Court expressed serious concerns about many aspects of WEG’s case (including one raised only by SCI), but most prominently about its standing to challenge the policy. Less than two weeks later, on Oct. 23, the Court ruled in SCI’s favor.
The Court’s ruling directs the dismissal of WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit, reinstates the McKittrick Policy, and, unless WEG successfully appeals to the Supreme Court, ends this case that started in 2013.