Salazar OKs wolves’ removal from endangered species list

Washington – Delisting of gray wolves in Michigan and other
Midwestern states – as well as several western states – was
approved March 6 by the Obama administration. Animal rights
organizations promised a swift legal response.

Delisting of the species was announced in mid-January, but
incoming President Barack Obama ordered that all pending
regulations – those proposed by the outgoing Bush administration –
be reviewed. Wolves were delisted in March 2007 in the Midwest, and
were managed by states for 18 months before a court ruled that they
be returned to federal protection.

According to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, “As the result of another legal ruling from the Washington
D.C. United States District Court on Sept. 29, 2008, the Service
re-examined its legal authorization to simultaneously identify and
delist a population of wolves in the western Great Lakes. The
Service today reissued the delisting decision in order to comply
with the court’s concerns.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the recovery of wolves
“one of the greatest success stories of the Endangered Species
Act.”

“When it was listed as endangered in 1974, the wolf had almost
disappeared from the continental United States,” Salazar said in an
agency press release. “Today, we have more than 5,500 wolves,
including more than 1,600 in the Rockies.”

About 3,000 of those wolves are in Minnesota. Michigan (520
wolves in 2008) and Wisconsin have about 1,100 combined. Those
totals are well beyond the federally defined recovery goals.
Further, each state has a federally approved management plan.

“The Service has determined that these plans establish a
sufficient basis for long-term wolf management,” according to the
Interior 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,
and will be governed by the appropriate state or tribe.”

Without incident, those Midwestern states took the reins of wolf
management for 18 months in 2007 and 2008. The federal government
will retain oversight over the species for the next five years “to
ensure that (wolves) continue to sustain their recovery.”

“Gray wolves have made a strong and successful recovery in our
state,” Michigan DNR Director Rebecca Humphries said in a release.
“This decision will allow management of the species to be performed
by the state, so that we can fully implement the state’s wolf
management plan.”

Besides Midwestern wolves, federal delisting also removes
protections from wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains, including
the states of Idaho and Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington,
and Utah. Wolves will remain federally protected in Wyoming,
according to the Interior Department, because “Wyoming’s current
state law and wolf management plan aren’t sufficient to conserve
its portion of the northern Rocky Mountain wolf population.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been unable to agree on a
protection plan with Wyoming, which had sought a “predator zone”
covering almost 90 percent of the state where wolves could be shot
on sight.

“The scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service do not feel the
recovery plan is adequate in Wyoming,” Salazar said

Idaho and Montana already have crafted plans for public hunts to
keep wolf populations in check. There are no immediate plans for
hunts in the western Great Lakes, which has about 4,000 wolves.

Animal rights groups like the Humane Society of the United
States and Defenders of Wildlife directed most of their reaction to
delisting in the Rocky Mountains, where there are about 1,600
wolves.

“Independent scientists say that between 2,000 and 3,000 wolves
are needed to have a sustainable, fully recovered population (in
the northern Rockies),” an HSUS press release states.

The HSUS said it expects the group Earthjustice to notify the
USFWS that delisting violates the Endangered Species Act, when the
federal government formally submits the rule to the Federal
Register.

According to the HSUS press release: “If the agency does not
reconsider the delisting rule, the ‘conservation’ groups will again
ask a federal court to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act
protections for wolves in the northern Rockies until wolf numbers
are stronger and states pledge to responsibly manage wolves.”

Reclassification and delisting have been on the table for the
past five years, after wolf recovery goals were realized. But
litigation has drawn out the process of delisting, in the Midwest
as well as the Rocky Mountains.

Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal
protection litigation with the HSUS, said that strategy might again
be in play: “We are disappointed the new administration missed the
opportunity to change course and rethink the failed wolf
persecution policies of the last eight years,” he said in a HSUS
press release. “We urge the Department of the Interior to
reconsider this ongoing effort to strip wolves of all federal
protection, which has been repeatedly struck down by the courts and
is no more likely to succeed here than the previous failed
attempts.”

But USFWS officials said recent delisting proposals have slowly
gained the approval of some animal protection groups that in the
past weren’t satisfied with wolf protection.

“With the most recent delisting (in 2007), the number (of groups
opposed) went down quite significantly,” said Laura Ragan, listing
specialist and wildlife biologist for the USFWS in Minneapolis.
“It’s important that we’ve addressed the concerns of
litigants.”

Ragan said the plan likely will be published in the Federal
Register within the next couple weeks. After 30 days, delisting
would take effect, and states and tribes would assume management of
the species.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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