Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Feds seek to delist wolves

Associated Press

Forest Lake, Minn. As a pack of wolves looked on, Interior
Secretary Gale Norton said it was time to celebrate the dramatic
comeback of the often-feared and sometimes-hated predator.

Norton said on Friday, July 16 her department plans to take the
gray wolf off the endangered species list across a swath of the
eastern U.S. running from the Dakotas to Maine.

“The recovery of wolf populations in the Rockies and the Great
Lakes area has been one of the most notable success stories of the
Endangered Species Act,” Norton told an audience of people and
wolves at the Wildlife Science Center, a nonprofit research center
30 miles north of the Twin Cities that’s home to 41 wolves.

The gray wolf, also known as the timber wolf, has bounced back
from the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states during the past
30 years under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Their
numbers have grown from as few as 350, all in northeastern
Minnesota, to almost 4,000 spread across several states.

Standing in front of a large pen containing six wolves, Norton
compared the gray wolf’s recovery to that of an intensive care
patient who is later released from the hospital.

“It is a wonderful success,” she said. “It is a tremendous
achievement for all of those who have been involved in this
process.”

As the ceremony drew to a close, one wolf started to howl,
joined soon by others across the center. They were loud enough to
drown out Walter Medwid, executive director of the International
Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.

“Wolves have survived in spite of centuries of relentless
persecution by humans,” Medwid told the assembled federal, state,
and tribal officials and wolf supporters. “But unlike the bald
eagle or the peregrine falcon, the wolf, being the wolf, will
continue to challenge our commitment in keeping it a part of
America’s landscape.”

The states most affected by the announcement are Minnesota,
which has the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states at
around 2,400, Wisconsin with upward of 400 wolves, and Michigan
with an estimated 360 wolves. Those states will take over
management of their own wolf populations, with federal oversight
for five years.

The Interior Department upgraded the gray wolf’s status from
endangered to threatened everywhere in the lower 48 states last
year except for the Southwest, where a subspecies, the Mexican gray
wolf, is still struggling.

While gray wolves have been making a comeback in Wyoming,
Montana, and Idaho since they were reintroduced into Yellowstone
National Park in the mid 1990s, the federal agency has not been
able to agree with those states on management plans. The wolf will
remain classified as threatened in the West and endangered in the
Southwest for now.

Norton’s announcement started a 120-day public comment period.
She told reporters her department plans to issue its final rule
late this year or early next year and she expects it will be
challenged in court.

“Most of the things we do at the Department of Interior, someone
files a lawsuit,” said Norton, who spoke later that day at the Bay
Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay.

The National Wildlife Federation criticized the plan as
shortsighted because it means the federal government won’t be
involved in any efforts to reintroduce the wolf in Maine, New
Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, which the group says have
suitable habitat. Norton said any reintroduction there would be up
to the states themselves.

Scott Hassett, secretary of the Wisconsin DNR, said he wasn’t
sure exactly what the state’s final plan will look like, but he
said Wisconsin needs more ways to control its wolf population,
which has already reached the official goal and is growing at 20
percent annually.

Current measures that allow killing of wolves that prey on
livestock won’t be enough if the growth continues, but Hassett
wasn’t ready to say if Wisconsin will have a season on wolves. He
did say any hunting might be very limited, perhaps to landowners or
lottery winners.

“To us this is a great success story, but we also need the tools
in place to keep it where it’s at,” Hassett said.

Minnesota’s management plan divides the state into two zones. In
the forested northeastern third of the state, protections would
remain strict. Owners of livestock and pets could destroy wolves
only if they pose an immediate threat to their animals.

In the rest of the state, wolves would still be protected, but
livestock and pet owners would have greater freedom to kill or
remove wolves to protect their animals.

The plan gives the commissioner of natural resources the
authority to allow sport hunting of wolves in that zone, but not in
the forest zone, five years after the wolf comes off the list. But
no decision on hunting would be made before that, said Mark
Holsten, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota DNR.

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