Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Groups file suit over federal wolf delisting

By Tim Spielman

Associate Editor

Minneapolis – Just over a month ago, federal wolf delisting took
effect for the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Michigan, and
Wisconsin, where about 4,000 wolves reside. More recently, three
animal rights groups announced they would challenge delisting,
which shifted wolf management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to state resource agencies in those three states.

‘The agency’s decision to strip wolves of all federal protection
is biologically reckless and contrary to the requirements of the
Endangered Species Act,’ Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of
litigation for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a
press release. The release named Help Our Wolves Live and the
Animal Protection Institute as litigants, along with the HSUS.

‘The species’ recent progress toward recovery should not be
squandered by exposing them to mass killings and state-authorized
hunting and trapping programs,’ Lovvorn said in the release.

The USFWS in February removed gray (timber) wolves in the
western Great Lakes states, as well as portions of the states of
North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, from
federal protection. The core states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and
Michigan – where wolves have established packs – all have state
management plans that took effect in mid-March.

In the meantime, four groups (those in the press release, along
with the Minnesota Wolf Alliance, which isn’t included in the
latest suit) announced their intent to sue, which offered them 60
days to file suit, according to Ron Refsnider, listing specialist
for the USFWS.

Refsnider said he hadn’t seen the specifics of the lawsuit –
only the press release from the HSUS.

‘Until we see the actual lawsuit, it’s hard to (respond to
claims),’ he said.

‘For now, delisting is still in effect Š until a federal judge
says otherwise or we Š reverse delisting,’ Refsnider said.

The USFWS may get some help in defending its decision if the
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation gets its way. WWF members have asked
Gov. Jim Doyle and the Wisconsin DNR to intervene in the case in
support of the USFWS.

Refsnider said several things could happen regarding the
lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
For example, it’s possible a judge could decide to return wolf
management immediately – at least temporarily – to the federal
agency. Or, the case could follow ‘normal’ procedures, with the
judge ultimately making a decision to keep wolves off, or return
them to, federal protected status.

In the meantime, Refsnider and other federal officials involved
with wolf delisting are preparing paperwork – the detailed record
that led to delisting.

‘It’s a lot of work just to put together the paperwork that
shows we followed proper procedure and that there’s no hidden
smoking gun,’ he said.

In the press release, animal rights advocates argued that state
management plans don’t adequately protect wolves. Further, wolf
recovery hadn’t taken place across the species’ historic range.

‘The gray wolf remains endangered across its historic range, and
until the gray wolf has recovered across a significant portion of
that range, the FWS cannot justify delisting the wolf,’ Nicole
Paquette, director of legal and governmental affairs for the Animal
Protection Institute, said in the press release. ‘If this decision
is upheld, then it will open the door for numerous other
unrecovered species to be delisted, thereby undermining the very
purpose of the Endangered Species Act.’

Refsnider said the 2007 delisting was different than an earlier
attempt to delist, in that a distinct population segment (DPS) was
drawn around a region in which wolves were recovered. Other areas
covered by an earlier plan were excluded.

He said the agency will seek to demonstrate decisions were made
and boundaries drawn based on scientific data.

Peggy Struhsacker, project manager for the National Wildlife
Federation, said while that group opposed the first attempt at wolf
delisting because of the DPS boundaries, it supports the current
delisting plan.

In 2003, wolf delisting was to include areas where the NWF
believed wolves had not yet recovered, she said.

‘We felt this was better,’ she said. ‘The DPS was based on
biology Š not on political lines.’

Struhsacker said the NWF believes state plans in Minnesota,
Michigan, and Wisconsin will protect wolves and ensure their
long-range survival.

Further, ‘The three states have been cooperative managers (with
USFWS officials) for years,’ she said. ‘Wolves have come back very
strongly in the Great Lakes states, and the states have shown they
can do a good job managing the species.

‘That said, we’ll continue to be very watchful.’

Struhsacker said while NWF supports current delisting, the group
believes federal funding should support state management
efforts.

The HSUS press release, however, takes aim at state wolf
management plans – in particular, Minnesota’s:

‘Now that management authority has been turned over to the
states, wolf populations could face drastic reductions in their
numbers,’ the HSUS press release states. ‘For example, the
Minnesota wolf management plan – which now provides the only
protection for wolves in the state – may allow the removal of
nearly 50 percent of the current wolf population by a variety of
means, including hunting and trapping.’

Refsnider said that statement probably alludes to the fact that
there are about 3,000 wolves in Minnesota; the Minnesota plan calls
for a minimum of 1,600 wolves, while the federal recovery plan sets
a goal of 1,250 to 1,400 wolves.

Even reaching those levels ‘doesn’t bring the wolf to threatened
or endangered levels,’ Refsnider said. ‘It’s hard for me to imagine
the wolf population even being brought down to 1,600 animals.’

The federal delisting plan includes monitoring of wolf
populations in the three states for at least five years.

Officials estimate there currently are about 600 wolves in
Wisconsin, and another 430 wolves in Michigan’s Upper
Peninsula.

While other species struggle to recover – once federally listed
– because of habitat problems, wolves have demonstrated the ability
to recover quickly, Refsnider said.

During the mid-20th Century, wolves in the Upper Midwest were
subjected to a number of control and elimination schemes by the
government and individuals, including predator control programs,
wolf bounties, and poisoning. By the 1960s, only about 350 to 700
wolves remained in northern Minnesota, along with a remnant
population on Isle Royale. In 1974, the species was listed as
endangered under the Endangered Species Act throughout the lower 48
states.

By the late 1980s, following about 20 years of federal
protection, the wolf population had bounced back to about 1,500. In
1994, officials announced the combined wolf population of Wisconsin
and Michigan was 100.

‘The wolf is a very cooperative species,’ Refsnider said of the
species’ recovery. ‘It was more people management than wolf
management.’

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