Minnesota gets in on wolf lawsuit ‘action’

St. Paul – The state of Minnesota has joined a list of
Midwestern states that have joined ranks with the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service in fending off a lawsuit aimed at returning wolves
to the federal Endangered Species List.

Minnesota, as well as states such as Wisconsin and the Dakotas,
and groups like the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, has
signed onto a legal document prepared and filed by the Michigan
Attorney General on Jan. 18.

As one of the amici curiae, Minnesota isn’t named as a litigant
in the lawsuit, but, as a friend of the court, may advise the court
regarding case matters – on behalf of the USFWS. The Humane Society
of the United States sued the federal agency in April, charging
that delisting wolves in the Midwest was “biologically reckless and
contrary to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.”

USFWS and state officials agree that wolves long ago reached
recovery goals in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan,
where there are now about 4,000 wolves – about 3,000 in Minnesota
and nearly 500 each in Michigan and Wisconsin. Those goals were set
in the 1978 Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf, and were
modified in 1992. The lawsuit was filed after the USFWS officially
turned the wolf management keys over to state officials last
March.

However, the USFWS in its delisting plan held onto oversight
responsibility for five years.

By joining the action filed by Michigan Attorney General Michael
Cox, Minnesota DNR officials intend to “reinforce our support for
the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and reiterate
our confidence in our ability to manage wolves,” according to Ed
Boggess, deputy director for the Minnesota DNR’s Division of Fish
and Wildlife.

“This case presents issues of great importance to the ability of
the FWS to interpret and administer the Endangered Species Act in a
manner that is consistent with the best interests of the species
protected under the act, as well as the interests of the states
responsible for protecting and managing a particular species Š” the
brief states.

The latest was one in a series of lawsuits that have arisen as
the USFWS moved toward wolf delisting. Reclassification was
derailed a few years ago because of a dispute over what constituted
a distinct population segment – a portion of the wolf’s population
or range.

This time around, the HSUS and other plaintiffs in the case –
Help Our Wolves Live and the Animal Protection Institute, argue
that the wolf remains endangered across much of its historical
range. USFWS officials say the ESA doesn’t require recovery across
a species’ entire historical range.

According to the brief filed by the state of Michigan: “The ESA
defines ‘endangered’ as ‘in danger of extinction throughout all or
a significant portion of its range. ‘Threatened’ is defined as
‘likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable
future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.’ The
word ‘range’ in the phrase ‘significant portion of its range,’
refers to the range in which the species currently exists, not to
the historical range of the species where it once existed.”

The brief also serves to defend state wolf management plans in
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

“Of particular importance is that the three states Š in which
the core populations occur, have plans in place to maintain viable
wolf populations. Importantly, these three states have applicable
laws and programs to: deter illegal killing of wolves; manage
problem wolves without harm to their populations; and monitor
trends in population size. Individually, the three states take a
conservative approach to wolf management because they treat wolves
within their jurisdictions as an isolated population that receives
no genetic or demographic benefits from immigrating wolves.

“This approach provides strong assurances that the gray wolf
will remain viable in each state for the foreseeable future,” the
brief states.

Along with the brief, the state of Michigan included other
supporting evidence, including a statement from Todd Hogrefe,
endangered species coordinator for the Michigan DNR.

Among other things, Hogrefe points out that, prior to delisting,
few costs and responsibilities of on-the-ground wolf management in
the state were borne by the federal government. Further,
contributions toward wolf-related law enforcement in Michigan also
have been predominantly state rather than federal.

He also said funding and implementation of the Michigan wolf
management plan has been and continues to be adequate to maintain a
viable Michigan wolf population above a level that would warrant
its classification as threatened or endangered.

Trends in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan during the past two
decades show that rates of human-caused mortality (or mortality in
general) have not been a problem for sustaining viable wolf
populations, Hogrefe added.

Other states joining as amici curiae include Kansas, Kentucky,
Missouri, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Midwest Association of Fish
and Wildlife Agencies. Intervenor-defendants in the case are the
U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and Safari Club International.

According to USFWS wolf specialist Georgia Parham, of Indiana,
all briefs must be submitted to the federal judge in the case by
Feb. 29.

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