Fri Aug 19, 5:43 PM ET
MONTPELIER, Vt. - A federal judge Friday ordered the Bush administration to step up efforts to restore the gray wolf to four northeastern states, a ruling environmentalists called a major victory.
"The wolves are howlin'" in celebration, said Patrick Parenteau, director of the environmental law clinic at Vermont Law School.
Judge J. Garvan Murtha found that the Department of the Interior violated federal law in 2003 when it issued a rule saying no further efforts to restore the wolf were needed. The ruling covers Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York state.
Efforts to restore wolves had been successful in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The government wanted to lump those states in with the Northeast in a new, 21-state eastern region, and declare that enough had been done to restore wolf populations throughout the eastern United States.
Anthony Tur, a Fish and Wildlife Service field officer in Concord, N.H., said the agency's headquarters in Washington would decide whether to appeal the ruling.
He questioned the push to build gray wolf populations in the Northeast on two fronts, saying it wasn't clear that the public would support such a move and there was dispute in the scientific community about whether gray wolves ever populated the region.
Environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation and state groups in Vermont, Maine and New York, joined in the lawsuit. They argued that good wolf habitats exist in northern Maine and in New York's Adirondack Mountains, and that northern Vermont and New Hampshire likely would become an important corridor for wolves migrating between those two habitats.
Parenteau, lead attorney in the case, said his students "did all the hard labor in the case. It's a nice victory for our students."