Groups plan to sue over wolf depredation permits

By Tim Spielman Associate Editor

Minneapolis — Did you have something to say about the plan to
remove timber wolves from federal protection in the Midwest? Unless
there’s a remarkable revelation that reopens the comment period,
you’re out of luck; the comment period ended in late June.

That gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about nine months
to decide – based on those comments and other input – what the
agency will present the public in approximately March of next
year.

Options range from withdrawing the proposal to making minor
changes, to offering the proposal as written, said Ron Refsnider,
USFWS listing specialist at the Region 3 office in Minneapolis.

Should groups opposed to the delisting plan choose to sue the
agency, they’d do so once the USFWS put forward its plan.

“It’s too soon,” Refsnider said. “Lawsuits can’t be filed until
we make a final decision.”

Lawsuits derailed attempts in 2003 to downlist the species and
in 2004 to delist wolves. Those suits forced the USFWS to redraw
the boundaries of “distinct population segments” (DPSs) for
wolves.

That doesn’t make Michigan and Wisconsin residents immune to
lawsuits that could affect them in the meantime.

Refsnider said while the wolf delisting proposal remains on
course, several groups have teamed to file an intent to sue
regarding depredation permits in Michigan and Wisconsin.

In Minnesota, federal officials for many years have been allowed
to kill problem, depredating wolves. Special permits have been
required in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Not long ago, after the several months it took to restore the
permits in those two states, federal officials were able, once
again, to kill problem wolves.

Under the Endangered Species Act, groups or individuals must
file a 60-day notice of intent to sue, Refsnider said. But once
that time is up, and if a lawsuit is, in fact, filed, it could be a
matter of days before a judge pulls the permits.

“It could cause us to revoke them completely,” he said.

The 60 days generally allows the suing group(s) to reach
agreement with the agency involved.

“In this case, there’s nothing to talk about,” Refsnider said.
“At this point, we sit back, wait for the 60 days to run, then
defend the permits.”

The groups signing onto the intent to sue include the Humane
Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, the Animal
Protection Institute, the Friends of Animals and Their Environment
(FATE), Help Our Wolves Live (HOWL), the Indigenous Environmental
Network, the Klamath Forest Alliance, and RESTORE: the North
Woods.

Refsnider said the groups could seek immediate cessation of the
program, which could possibly occur within days of the case being
heard by a federal judge. Or, the lawsuit could be rejected.

Refsnider said it was important that the permits were in place,
at least during the spring calving period in Michigan and
Wisconsin. Calves born this spring are now “bigger, stronger, and
able to fend for themselves,” making them less susceptible to wolf
attacks.

In Wisconsin, the 60-day “waiting period” ends July 8; in
Michigan, it expires July 23.

The delisting plan

The current delisting proposal would remove the gray wolf from
federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. States
included in the proposal are Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Other states included – but where wolves make only occasional
appearances – are the Dakotas, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and
Iowa.

But Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are considered the core
states. It’s there where wolf recovery goals have been realized,
leading to the current plan. Minnesota now boasts an estimated
3,020 wolves, while Wisconsin is home to about 425 and Michigan,
about 405. All counts are well in excess of what’s been established
as recovery goals.

All states are required to have approved wolf plans, and the
proposal calls for the USFWS to maintain oversight of wolf
management for five years. The USFWS also reserves the ability to
return the species to endangered or threatened status “if
appropriate.”

Public meetings

For the most part, public meetings held in Duluth, Minn.,
Wausau, Wis., and Marquette, Mich., played host to the usual
suspects when it comes to wolf management. Heavy in attendance were
cattle ranchers, biologists, and animal-rights defenders.

The Duluth meeting was held May 8, and about 22 people attended,
according to Refsnider.

One of those in attendance, Linda Hatfield, of the group Help
Our Wolves Live – HOWL – said her group is opposed to wolf
delisting.

“We believe (the USFWS) cannot create a DPS as a way to speed up
delisting,” she said. “It is not meant as a delisting tool.
Moreover, this plan, this delisting proposal, this DPS, would undo
recovery.”

Refsnider said USFWS policy enacted about 10 years ago says DPSs
may be used in the case of listing, reclassifying, and
delisting.

Hatfield also said human-caused mortality was a concern of
HOWL.

“Human-caused mortality was the primary cause of the decline of
the wolf … Yet, this delisting proposal exists today without Fish
and Wildlife’s quantifying the present level of human-caused
mortality.”

Hatfield said human-caused mortality has been estimated to be
between 200 and 400 annually – wolves that have been illegally
killed.

Refsnider said although those numbers could possibly be
extrapolated from a limited study conducted during one deer season
in Minnesota, there’s no data that show that many killings
occur.

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