In an effort to protect the endangered red wolf, the Fish
and Wildlife Service (FWS) had bred a bunch of them in captivity and
reintroduced them into wildlife refuges in North Carolina and Tennessee.
FWS was acting in accordance to Endangered Species Act
(ESA) §10(j), and 50 C.F.R. §17.84.
Some of the wolves wandered out of the refuge onto private
land and became a nuisance to local landowners (including Gibbs). The
landowners wanted to get rid of the wolves.
But, killing the wolves constituted a taking of an
endangered species and was therefore prohibited under ESA §9(a)(1),
which prevents people from harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting,
shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting endangered
50 C.F.R. §17.84(c) did have some exemptions, but
the landowners felt that they didn't go far enough.
The landowners sued to be allowed to exterminate the
wolves they found on their property.
The landowners argued that 50 C.F.R. §17.84(c) was
unconstitutional because it was a local land use issue that did not
affect interstate commerce, and so Congress had no authority to regulate
under the Commerce Clause.
The Trial Court found that the law was constitutional.
The landowners appealed.
The Trial Court found that the wolvers were "things
of interstate commerce" because they have moved across State lines
and their movement is followed by "tourists, academics, and
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found the 50 C.F.R. §17.84(c)
is constitutional under the Commerce Clause because the taking of
the wolves implicates a variety of commercial activities and is closely
connected to several interstate markets.
The landowners unsuccessfully argued that tourism and
scientific research only occurs on the Federal refuge, not on their
private land. However, the Appellate Court found that killing the
wolves on private lands would reduce the total number of wolves, and
that could reduce the number in the Federal refuge.
In addition, the Appellate Court found that the
regulation is an integral part of an overall Federal scheme to conserve
valuable wildlife resources important to the welfare of the country.
In kind of twisted logic, the Appellate Court found that
since the landowners were killing wolves to protect their livestock, and
since the livestock were clearly part of interstate commerce, Congress
had the authority to regulate the wolves because the law affected
interstate commerce and was therefore allowed under the Commerce Clause,
even if that effect was a negative one.
The Appellate Court noted that it made no sense for
Congress to only have the authority to regulate widely abundant species
and not critically endangered one, since widely abundant species don't