2007-02-01 / Front Page

Federal Protection Removed From Wolves

States, Tribes Now Responsible for Management
By Amy Polk

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service removed federal protection from gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and in portions of six other states Monday, January 29.

State wildlife managers and American Indian tribes are now responsible for determining how to classify and manage the animal. Wolves are still classified as threatened in Michigan, and they will remain protected unless the Department of Natural Resources decides to change that status. Michigan's guiding principles for wolf management, recommended in December by the Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, do not include a hunting season.

Wolf management plans have been created for each of the three states in the so-called Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment.

"None of the three states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) have hunting in their management plans, though they do recognize the possibility of hunting," said US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall during a conference call Monday, responding to a question about whether lethal wolf control or a hunting season will now be allowed in the three states.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said protection will be officially removed from wolves 30 days after the final rule is published in the Federal Register. Until that date, gray wolves remain protected, and all federal Endangered Species Act protection laws and fines apply. The agency didn't speculate about when the rule will be published.

Michigan has issued a limited number of permits to destroy "problem wolves" that are a proven threat to livestock and pets. The state last held a federal permit to kill as many as 20 problem wolves in 2004, when the Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded wolves from endangered to threatened status. Wildlife and conservation organizations were successful in challenging the downgrade in court, however, and wolves were returned to endangered status, thus revoking Michigan's kill permit.

Fish and Wildlife Service agents said Monday they are confident the de-listing will not be challenged again, as they believe they have addressed the complaints raised by the 2004 case, in which the plaintiffs argued it was too soon to de-list wolves because they have not yet recovered in some states. The service redrew its wolf management district to exclude some of the East Coast states included in the suit. The Western Great Lakes management district where wolves are to be delisted includes all of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

The agency is proposing similar declassification in the Rocky Mountain district .

"The Fish and Wildlife Service hasn't had a long history with endangered species removal, so it's really been a learning process," said Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, who spoke at the January 29 telephone press conference.

She hailed the de-listing as a success story, and "model of cooperation, flexibility, and hard work." Wolves have exceeded population goals in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, where the three states boast a combined population of 4,000 wolves. Michigan reports 434 wolves in the Upper Peninsula, and another 30 on Isle Royale. Wisconsin has approximately 460 wolves, and Minnesota has roughly 3,000. The population goal for each of the states was 100 animals.

"The threat to wolves really only has been people killing too many wolves, and we feel that's been addressed now," said Ed Banks of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ron Refsnider of the Fish and Wildlife Service said the service hopes the number of illegal wolf killings will now drop.

"We believe they have been killing out of frustration, and hopefully there will now be less of a feeling of folks needing to take things into their own hands," Mr. Refsnider said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service plans to continue monitoring wolf status in the de-listed states to keep an eye on populations there, and may reconsider federal protection, if necessary.

See Page 2 story about Michigan's Wolf Management Roundtable for more information about the state's wolf management plan.

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