Gray wolf delisting hits snag

Washington – For the second time in as many years, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service has said timber wolves will be delisted in the
Midwest. The last delisting occurred in March 2007, but a federal
judge nullified that action last fall, ending a run of 18 months of
wolf management by the states of Michigan, Minnesota and
Wisconsin.

The USFWS reissued the delisting decision Jan. 14 “in order to
comply with the court’s concerns,” according to a press release.
States would take the helm 30 days after publication in the Federal
Register.

But that all changed last week when a new administration took
over the presidency. As one of his first actions, President Barack
Obama ordered that all pending regulations be reviewed by incoming
staff, including wolf delisting.

Frank Quimby, an Interior Department spokesman in Washington,
said last week that all federal agencies and departments were
instructed to freeze the current rule-making process, including
wolf delisting in the Midwest, as well as the Rocky Mountains.

“There could be one of three actions,” Quimby said. “It could
continue going forward, it could be modified, or it could not go
forward.”

Quimby said there’s no estimated timeframe for the review, but
that “it could take a while. There will be a formal review of the
rules, and a decision will be forthcoming,” he said.

Officials say such a review by a new presidential administration
isn’t new, nor is it that outgoing administrations attempt to push
through rules before leaving the office.

At the same time the USFWS announced delisting of wolves in the
Midwest, the agency delisted wolves in the northern Rocky
Mountains, except in the state of Wyoming, where wolves “will
continue to be protected by (the Endangered Species Act) due to a
lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms ensuring their protection
under state law,” the release states.

Federal officials provided details of the decision during a
teleconference earlier this month.

They said delisting this time will in essence be the same as the
plan in 2007. State agencies would assume management of the
species, but federal oversight would continue for five years,
during which time the USFWS would monitor wolves to ensure
populations don’t fall below established goals.

At the end of the five-year period, “the Service will decide if
relisting, continued monitoring, or ending Service monitoring is
appropriate,” the release states.

Currently, there are an estimated 4,000 wolves in the three
states that make up their primary range in the Midwest – Michigan
(about 520 wolves in the Upper Peninsula), Wisconsin (about 550
wolves), and Minnesota (about 3,000 wolves). The federal “recovery”
goal in Minnesota is between 1,250 and 1,400 wolves; it’s 100
wolves in the states of Wisconsin and Michigan. Each of the three
states has management plans for the species.

The USFWS says it has determined the plans are appropriate for
long-term management of wolves.

According to the USFWS press release: “They address issues such
as protective regulations, control of problem animals, possible
hunting and trapping seasons, and the long-term health of the wolf
population …”

The western Great Lakes “distinct population segment” also
includes several states “in which wolf packs may become established
in the future.” Those states are North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa,
Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

Delisting will enable the states of Michigan and Wisconsin to
deal with problem wolves, and also allow citizens to kill wolves
that threaten life or property.

“Relisting” of wolves occurred in September 2008 following a
ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman, prompted by a
lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States and
other animals rights organizations.

Following the ruling, the USFWS “re-examined its legal
authorization to simultaneously identify and delist a population of
wolves in the western Great Lakes,” the press release states.

Ed Bangs, gray wolf recovery coordinator for the USFWS, said
federal aid would remain in place for states once they assume
management of wolves.

For example, the USDA Wildlife Services officials would be
available to help state officials deal with wolves problems, and
would assist in trapping or killing problematic wolves.

In the early 1970s, the wolf population in the Midwest consisted
of a few hundred wolves in Minnesota.

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