WYOMING — A wolf advocate from Big Piney, Wyo., has rights under the federal Freedom of Information Act to the names, addresses and telephone numbers of wolf sighters who reported their observations in the Yellowstone National Park area to the U.S. government, the federal District Court in Cheyenne ruled in late May.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, which had denied the information under the privacy exemption to the FOI Act (Exemption 6), must disclose it to Cat Urbigkit, who has worked since 1986 to convince the natural resource agency that there are wolves in the area entitled to protection. She wants to contact observers for more information.
Disclosure to Urbigkit will serve the public interest in bringing into public scrutiny the service’s activities in carrying out the duties imposed upon it by the Endangered Species Act, the court said.
That interest outweighs any minimal privacy interests the wolf sighters might have in keeping their reports secret, the court wrote, noting disclosure would not expose observers of the wolves to retaliatory action or embarrassment.
In January 1993 the Fish and Wildlife Service was considering an experimental reintroduction of wolves into the Yellowstone area. According to her attorney, Urbigkit was concerned that there were already wolves in the area needing government protection under the Endangered Species Act. She also believed that the government should not introduce additional wolves from a separate subspecies to the indigenous wolves’ habitat.
She filed an FOI Act request in January 1993 with the Fish and Wildlife Service and sued for the information in August after it was denied to her.
(Urbigkit v. Department of Interior; Counsel: Steve Jones, Jackson, Wyo.)
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