Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Court puts wolves back on ‘the list’

Washington – Wolves in the Midwest became subject to federal
protection – and state management responsibility for the species
was removed – when a U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday ordered
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place the species again on
the Endangered Species List.

For the Midwestern states that have wolves, it means protection
as a “threatened” species in Minnesota, and as an “endangered”
species in both Michigan and Wisconsin. In essence, it’s a return
to the way things were before March 2007, when wolf “delisting”
took effect.

Shortly after delisting last year, the federal agency was sued
by the Humane Society of the United States, and other animal rights
groups, which argued state management was premature, or, according
to court documents, that the USFWS “violated the ESA and acted
arbitrarily and capriciously by simultaneously designating and
delisting the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment” – a
designated cluster of gray wolves in the western Great Lakes
region. Judge Paul Friedman ruled the USFWS “failed to acknowledge
and address crucial statutory ambiguities in the course of
promulgating the final (delisting) rule.”

Ron Refsnider, former listing coordinator for the USFWS, spent
nearly two decades participating in wolf recovery in the Midwest
and in removing the species from the Endangered Species List before
retiring last year. However, he acted as a consultant regarding the
current lawsuit.

Refsnider called Friedman’s order “a very narrow procedural
ruling.” In essence, he said, the judge questioned the legality of
delisting wolves in a DPS that wasn’t formerly a DPS.

“It was not (a) biological (decision),”_he said.

In Minnesota, the decision will affect not only game managers,
but private individuals, according to Dan Stark, DNR wolf
management specialist.

“The biggest change for people is that there will be no private
‘take’ allowed to protect livestock or pets,” Stark said Tuesday.
The only take, or killing, that will be allowed will be that to
protect human life, or that which is done by federal officials who
deal with wolves preying on livestock or causing other damage.
Stark said in the past 18 months of state management of wolves, it
has contracted with USDA Wildlife Services to handle depredating
wolves. About 130 “problem” wolves have been killed annually for
the past few years, he said.

Stark said that since wolves were delisted in March 2007, 10
have been legally shot by landowners. He added that the judge’s
decision wasn’t based on threats to wolves caused by the changeover
to state management.

“It’s unfortunate for states, especially after a year and a half
of state management, that now we have to switch back again,” Stark
said.

Stark said area DNR wildlife managers have been contacted about
the immediate change, and conservation officers around the state
have been informed, as well, in order to get the word out to
private landowners.

The Minnesota wolf plan calls for the possibility of a wolf
hunt, but only after five years of delisting. Stark said he wasn’t
sure if the court action would eliminate the 18 months that already
had accrued.

Currently, there are an estimated 3,000 wolves in Minnesota; the
federal recovery plan calls for a population of 1,250 to 1,400
wolves. In the heart of the Western Great Lakes DPS – Minnesota,
Michigan, and Wisconsin – the population is about 4,000 wolves,
including more than 400 each in the latter two states, where the
federal recovery plan calls for at least 100 wolves.

Federal officials haven’t yet decided their response to the
judge’s ruling, according to Jason Holm, of the USFWS office of
external affairs at Fort Snelling.

“Our solicitors (agency attorneys) are looking at the ruling to
see what our next action might be,” Holm said Tuesday. An appeal,
he said, was something the agency might consider, or the USFWS
might “repropose” a rule with different language.

Some conservation groups that support wolf delisting in the
Midwest – including the National Wildlife Federation – have said if
the agency appeals the judge’s ruling, it risks adding more years
of uncertainty to the process, and potentially ending up where it
began.

Others called the court’s ruling “quirky.”

Refsnider said he believed the USFWS addressed all the court’s
concerns in 2005, when a judge ruled against the Department of the
Interior and USFWS regarding a plan to reclassify wolves. The case
was heard by a federal court.

“We thought we’d done precisely what the Vermont court thought
we should do,” Refsnider said.

He also said the current issue might have been handled
differently; that the concern could’ve been addressed without
“undoing the whole thing.”

Refsnider has been critical of what he believes is
misinterpretation of the ESA by federal courts; the Act, he says,
is not intended to re-establish a species across its historical
range, but to strengthen a species so extinction is no longer a
looming threat. Restoration across an entire historical range is
impractical – for wolves or other species.

“If this stands, it’s really bad news,” he said. “Not just for
wolves, but for the ESA.”

Already, Refsnider said, the USFWS has done three time-consuming
delisting packages regarding timber wolves in the Midwest, which is
excessive, considering “nobody has argued with a straight face that
wolves haven’t recovered,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States and other
lawsuit plaintiffs – Help Our Wolves Live, the Animal Protection
Institute, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment – hailed
the ruling as a victory.

“This is a great day for wolves in the Great Lakes region, and a
crushing blow for wealthy trophy hunting groups like the Safari
Club and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance who were champing at the bit
to take part in the planned slaughter of these magnificent
creatures,” Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS vice president of animal
protection litigation , said in a web site press statement.

According to the HSUS web site, “Prior to today’s decision,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan had all authorized the killing
of wolves, and their management plans would collectively allow
nearly a 50-percent reduction in the region’s wolf population.
Those plans were scuttled by today’s decision restoring federal
protections for wolves in the region.”

Wolves first were listed as endangered in the 1970s, when only a
few hundred wolves remained in Minnesota. By the end of the 1980s,
the population had neared the 1,500 mark. The goal of 100 wolves in
both Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan was reached in the early
1990s.

One provision of delisting in 2007 was temporary oversight of
state management by the USFWS. All states had management plans
approved by the federal agency, and in place.

“We’ve been operating for the past 10 years under the ESA, with
a recovered species,” Minnesota DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten
said.

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