Gibbs v. Babbitt
214 F.3d 483 (4th Cir. 2000)

  • 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 species.
    • 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 scientists."
  • 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 need protection.