Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Efforts continue to delist timber wolves

By Marty Kovarik Correspondent

Marquette, Mich. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently
announced it will not appeal U.S. District Court decisions from
earlier this year nullifying the service’s reclassification of
timber (gray) wolves from endangered to threatened for much of the
United States.

In a news release dated Dec. 16, Craig Manson, assistant
secretary of the Department of the Interior, said, “The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service will not appeal U.S. District Court decisions
earlier this year striking down the service’s reclassification of
gray wolf populations from endangered to threatened for much of the
species’ current range in the United States, although we continue
to believe the reclassification was both biologically and legally
sound.”

This is considered a tactical move in the service’s continuing
attempts to give state governments authority to manage their own
wolf populations in areas where they are considered healthy and
thriving.

In January 2005, a federal District Court in Oregon withdrew the
2003 reclassification of gray wolves from endangered to threatened
status throughout much of the United States. At that point state
wildlife agencies lost the newly authorized use of lethal means to
control wolf-related livestock depredation. During the 18-month
period when the wolf was listed as threatened, authorities in
Michigan killed 10 wolves causing livestock depredation.

The service’s new approach comes after a recent letter sent to
the USFWS’ former director Steve Williams from the Michigan,
Wisconsin, and Minnesota departments of natural resources
encouraging a timely delisting of the gray wolf in those
states.

“The WDNR, MDNR, and MNDNR commend the efforts of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service in recovering wolves in the Great Lakes
region. This effort is completed and needs to be immediately
recognized so that support for wolf recovery does not further erode
in this area. It is time to return full authority for wolf
management to the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota,”
the letter stated.

The USFWS is exploring options for managing wolf populations
that will comply with the court’s rulings while recognizing that
Yellowstone and Great Lakes wolf populations have reached recovery
goals necessary for delisting. The federal Recovery Plan for the
gray wolf, written in 1992, set goals of 1,251 to 1,400 wolves for
Minnesota and at least 100 combined wolves in Wisconsin and
Michigan for five or more years. According to Brian Roell, wolf
coordinator for the Michigan DNR, federal requirements for the
delisting of the gray wolf in Michigan have been met since
1994.

As part of its new strategy, the USFWS plans to issue separate
proposed rules to delist new distinct population segments of gray
wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Great Lakes as early
as possible in 2006.

The letter to Williams specifically requested the USFWS
designate a Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment (DPS) that
includes Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Currently these three
states are listed with other eastern states where wolf recovery
efforts are incomplete. This grouping of states has led to lawsuits
to keep the wolf from being delisted in the western Great Lakes
because they are grouped with states lacking a stable population of
wolves.

“We are certainly happy they are not proceeding with a lengthy
appeal and are moving on and trying a different strategy,” Roell
said.

According to Roell, with a new Great Lakes DPS including
Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin – states with stable or growing
wolf populations – the delisting process may occur in Michigan as
early as 2006. Actual delisting would take several more months.

“For the people in Michigan and the wolves themselves, this will
be a great thing,” Roell said. “Hopefully the authority to manage
wolves will soon be given back to the state. This will immediately
give us the option to deal with livestock depredation and nuisance
wolves by lethal means.”

In the meantime, Michigan may resume killing depredating wolves
under special permits – permits that were suspended under a
different lawsuit last year.

Currently, the DNR is sending out 10,000 surveys to see how
citizens want wolves managed in Michigan. Preliminary results show
that there is not a lot of opposition to “taking” or “harvesting”
as a part of management, Roell said.

“However, there are some differences of opinion on how this
occurs,” Roell said. “Some people only want state authorities to
handle this, some only want federal authorities, and some want
hunting and trapping seasons open to the public.”

The DNR is establishing a roundtable made up of representatives
of different conservation organizations including the Michigan
United Conservation Clubs, National Wildlife Federation, The
Hunting Dog Foundation, U. P. Whitetails, and the Sierra Club. This
group will be charged with writing guidelines for the state to use
when writing the new wolf management plan to replace the one
written in 1997.

“This is definitely a positive step in the right direction,”
Roell said. “We have been hoping to be considered our own DPS and
to have our wolf federally delisted for quite some time.”

In the meantime, gray wolves will continue to be managed as they
were prior to the 2003 reclassification. As a result of a 1978
reclassification, gray wolves in Minnesota are classified as
threatened. In the remaining 47 continental states and Mexico they
are listed as endangered, except where they are listed as part of
an “experimental population” in the northern Rockies and parts of
the southwest.

The gray wolf began naturally returning to the Upper Peninsula
from Wisconsin and Canada in the late 1980s. The most current
winter track survey, completed last winter, found that there was a
minimum of 405 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. This was a 13-percent
increase over the 360 animals counted in the winter of 2004.

Citizens with concerns about wolf management in Michigan should
contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Michigan DNR.

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