Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Wolves back on federal ESA list

Traverse City, Mich. (AP) — A federal judge last month threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list – a decision that will ban further wolf hunting and trapping in three states.

The order affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, where the combined population is estimated at around 3,700. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections from those wolves in 2012 and handed over management to the states.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, in Washington, D.C., ruled the removal was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

Unless overturned, her decision will block the states from scheduling additional hunting and trapping seasons for the predators. All three have had at least one hunting season since protections were lifted, while Minnesota and Wisconsin also have allowed trapping. More than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves have been killed, said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, one of several groups whose lawsuit prompted Howell’s ruling.

“We are pleased that the court has recognized that the basis for the delisting decision was flawed, and would stop wolf recovery in its tracks,” Lovvorn said.
USFWS spokesman Gavin Shire said the agency was disappointed and would confer with the U.S. Department of Justice and the states about whether to appeal.

“The science clearly shows that wolves are recovered in the Great Lakes region, and we believe the Great Lakes states have clearly demonstrated their ability to effectively manage their wolf populations,” Shire said. “This is a significant step backward.”

State officials acknowledged being caught by surprise and said they would study the judge’s 111-page opinion before deciding what to do next.

“The federal court decision is surprising and disappointing,” Michigan DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said in a release. “Wolves in Michigan have exceeded recovery goals for 15 years and have no business being on the endangered species list, which is designed to help fragile populations recover – not to halt the use of effective wildlife-management techniques.”

The DNR will work with the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the full impact of the ruling on the state’s wolf-management program and identify next steps.

“In the meantime, the Wildlife Division will continue updating the state’s wolf-management plan, which includes the use of hunting and other forms of lethal control to minimize conflict with wolves,” Mason said. “Although the federal court’s ruling prevents the use of these management tools for the time being, the department will be prepared for any future changes that would return wolves to state management authority.”

The ruling is the latest twist in more than a decade of court battles over the gray wolf, which has made a strong recovery after being shot, poisoned, and trapped into near-extermination in the lower 48 states in the last century. Only a remnant pocket in northern Minnesota remained when the species was added to the federal endangered list in 1974.

The wolf is now well-established in the western Great Lakes and in the Northern Rockies, where the minimum population is estimated at around 1,700.

Animal-protection advocates repeatedly have sued over federal efforts to drop federal protections in both regions, arguing that the wolf’s situation remains precarious. Meanwhile, ranchers and farmers complain of heavy financial losses from wolf attacks on livestock.

In her opinion, Howell acknowledged the issue inspires passions on all sides, but said the administration’s “practical policy reasons” for its action in the Great Lakes region don’t trump the requirements of the federal law, which “offers the broadest possible protections for endangered species by design.”

“This law reflects the commitment by the United States to act as a responsible steward of the Earth’s wildlife, even when such stewardship is inconvenient or difficult for the localities where an endangered or threatened species resides,” Howell wrote.

The ruling came too late to halt this fall’s hunting and trapping seasons. They have concluded in Minnesota, where 272 wolves were killed, and Wisconsin, where the total was 154.

Michigan’s only hunt was in 2013, when 22 wolves were taken. During the November election, voters rejected two pro-hunting laws approved by the Legislature. But a third remains on the books, and regulators had been expected to consider scheduling another hunt next year.

Michigan officials warned residents that with wolves classified as endangered once again, it’s no longer legal to shoot those preying on livestock or pets. Wolves can be killed only if threatening human life, according to a release from the Michigan DNR.

Associated Press reporters Brian Bakst and Kyle Potter in Minneapolis, Todd Richmond in Madison, Wis., and Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., contributed to this story.

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