Feds move to delist Midwestern wolves
By Kevin Naze
Minneapolis — Calling them an “icon of wilderness,” Deputy
Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said gray wolves have exceeded
recovery goals in the western Great Lakes and northern Rocky
Scarlett, via a telephone news conference Jan. 29, announced the
removal of Great Lakes’ wolves from the federal list of threatened
and endangered species, and the proposed removal of gray wolves in
the northern Rocky Mountain region.
“We believe this is a major success story for conservation
achieved under the Endangered Species Act,” she said.
“Restoring the wolf to its place in the natural world while
addressing conflicts with people is a difficult balancing act,”
Scarlett said. “The gray wolf recovery efforts are an extraordinary
achievement, but more importantly, they help ensure that our
children and future generations will know and enjoy an important
part of their natural heritage that was nearly eliminated
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall said eventual
restoration of healthy wolf populations into areas of suitable
habitat was one of his goals when he started his career with the
USFWS in 1978.
“For me, this is sort of a full circle in a career, but I’m not
sure I’m done yet,” said Hall, an Air Force veteran who was sworn
in as director Oct. 12, 2005.
Wisconsin wolf biologist Adrian Wydeven said he was pleased with
the announcement and would immediately make plans to begin managing
problem wolves once the required 30-day public notice in the
Federal Register expired in early March.
“Once delisted, we’ll be able to issue permits to people to
shoot wolves on their land if they’ve had a history of problems,
and we’d also be able to again trap and euthanize depredating
wolves through USDA Wildlife Services,” Wydeven said.
Initially, a cluster of areas will be targeted, including farms
with a history of problems in Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, and Rusk
“We’re talking probably dozens of wolves,” Wydeven said.
The federal government downlisted the western Great Lakes wolf
population from endangered to threatened in 2003. A year later, it
began the process to remove the species from the threatened species
list. That was expected to be done quickly, but a court challenge
by animal rights groups in early 2005 relisted wolves as a
federally endangered species.
Wisconsin received a permit to trap and euthanize problem wolves
in April, 2005, but lost it five months later. Wydeven said the
state began applying “the right way” again immediately, and a new
permit was granted in April, 2006.
Then, on Aug. 9, 2006, an order issued by Judge Colleen
Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.,
caused the Wisconsin DNR and its partner, Wildlife Services, to
again suspend all wolf trapping and lethal control activities.
Court challenges are again expected, but Wydeven said any groups
most likely would have to file an intent to sue with a 60-day
notice, meaning the state would have, at minimum, at least 30 days
of lethal control.
Hall said the USFWS, after re-examining the previous decision
and identifying the deficiencies the court found, is confident it
has the science behind it to win any court case.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be successful not only in the courts, but in
continued maintenance of healthy wolf populations,” Scarlett
A total of 88 wolves causing livestock depredation were
euthanized by federal wildlife services workers in Wisconsin
between 2003 and early August of last year. The most was 29 in
2005. Wydeven said he believes more than that would have been
killed last year had the state not lost the permit. As it was, 18
wolves had been trapped and killed by midsummer. The most
depredations occur May through August, but last year many occurred
in September as well, Wydeven said.
Twenty-five farms had wolf problems last year, the same as 2005.
Additionally, Wydeven said there were 25 confirmed wolf killings of
dogs in 2006, and nine dogs were injured by wolves.
Some of the Rocky Mountain states likely will fold in public
hunting and harvest as forms of more intensive management fairly
quickly, Hall said.
“Some hunting has been used as a management technique for many
species,” said Hall, a hunter himself. “In the Midwest, none of the
plans include hunting at this point, although they all do seem to
realize that over the long-term, it’s an option, a state decision
and their prerogative.”
Minnesota’s plan notes that it would only consider a public hunt
after five years of delisting. Wisconsin and Michigan don’t have
Wydeven said it would require new legislation if Wisconsin were
to establish a public wolf-hunting and trapping season, something
that has been suggested to get the population down closer to its
management goal of 350 animals.
Critics say the DNR count of wolves – somewhere near 500 last
winter – is too low. Wydeven said the number could have swelled to
twice that many after pups were born last spring before declining
the rest of the year. When there’s no lethal controls, the leading
causes of wolf deaths are illegal shootings, vehicle-wolf
accidents, predation by other wolves, and disease, he said.
DNR officials and a large group of trained volunteers are again
compiling the midwinter wolf survey. Wydeven said his gut feeling
is there may be a small increase in the estimate this year.
Wolves will still be protected animals in Wisconsin even after
the delisting becomes final next month.
“People have a right to defend themselves if they feel an attack
is imminent, but just because they see a wolf doesn’t give them the
right to shoot it,” he said.
Once a species is removed from Endangered Species Act
protection, there are several safeguards to help ensure it
continues to thrive, including a mandatory five-year monitoring
period. The USFWS also has the ability to immediately relist a
species on an emergency basis, if monitoring or other data show
that is necessary.
The rule and other information on wolves can be found at
Scarlett said it was estimated that there were more than 1,200
wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain population, with about 713 in
central Idaho, 371 in the Yellowstone ecosystem in Idaho, Wyoming
and Montana, and 159 in northwest Montana and Idaho.
The minimum goal for wolves in that region is 30 breeding pairs
and at least 300 wolves for three consecutive years, a goal that
was attained in 2002 and has been exceeded ever since.
The USFWS believes that with approved state plans in place in
Montana and Idaho, threats to the wolf population will have been
reduced or eliminated in those states. However, the USFWS has
determined that Wyoming’s state law and wolf plan are not
sufficient to conserve Wyoming’s portion of a recovered wolf
Hall said if Wyoming’s plan is not approved before the USFWS
decides a final action on this proposal, the agency would continue
to protect wolves under the ESA in the significant portion of their
range in northwest Wyoming but could move forward to delist the
remainder of the wolves in Montana and Idaho and portions of
Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Utah.