Appeals mount following court’s wolf ruling

Lansing — The list of agencies and conservation groups appealing the recent decision to restore federal protection to gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes Region under the Endangered Species Act continues to grow. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed notices – although it acknowledged that the final decision on whether to pursue the case would be made by the Department of Justice. On Feb. 26, Wisconsin filed an appeal, and a day later, Michigan’s DNR also filed. Now add Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, the National Rifle Association, the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Safari Club International, the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, the Upper Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to the list.

The joint effort is an attempt to repeal the December 2014 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell that returned wolves in the Western Great Lakes Region – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota – to the endangered species list. The judge’s ruling put an end to wolf management hunts and mandated that people can only kill a wolf in self-defense, but not to protect pets or livestock. 

Judge Howell’s ruling surprised game managers in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. She stated in her opinion that the western Great Lakes population cannot be considered recovered until wolves are re-established across their widespread historic range. That range includes Lower Michigan and several other states. 

“Plain and simple, state agencies, not the federal government, are best qualified and equipped to manage wolves just as they manage all other wildlife,” David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, said in a statement. “The judge did not rule that the Great Lakes wolf population is ailing. On the contrary, it’s thriving – a fact that is echoed by wildlife scientists.” 

The federal court’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States to overturn delisting of wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which occurred in 2012.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has the ability to interpret and implement its own rules in determining what constitutes a recovered species. It should not be up to animal rights groups that file lawsuit after lawsuit and claim the states seek to push populations toward extinction. In this case, wolves are firmly recovered in a significant portion of their native range. The judge made a ruling that went too far,” Allen said.

The DNR’s appeal – filed by the Michigan attorney general – asks the court to uphold the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 decision that removed wolves in the three states from the federal endangered species list.

“Returning wolf management to wildlife professionals in the state of Michigan is critical to retaining a recovered, healthy, and socially-accepted wolf population in our state,” DNR Director Keith Creagh said in a statement.

“Michigan residents who live with wolves deserve to have a full range of tools available to sustainably manage that population.”

The threshold for recovery in Michigan was to have a population of 200 wolves for five years. The state reached that goal years ago, but each time wolves were removed from federal protection, HSUS and other animal rights groups had the decision overturned. 

The DNR said in a release that it will argue against the federal district court’s ruling that wolves must recover across their historic range before Michigan’s wolf population can be removed from the federal endangered species list.

In addition, the state will argue against the district court’s conclusion that the USFWS failed to demonstrate that Michigan’s laws and regulations adequately protect the wolf population in Michigan, according to the release.

“Wolves in Michigan and the other western Great Lakes states are fully recovered from endangered species status, which is a great success story,” DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said. “Continuing to use the Endangered Species Act to protect a recovered species not only undermines the integrity of the Act, it leaves farmers and others with no immediate recourse when their animals are being attacked and killed by wolves.”

Legislation also has been introduced to remove wolves from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“I do believe they will come off the (endangered species) list because they are not endangered and they are not threatened,” Drew Youngedyke, MUCC’s field and public relations manager, told Michigan Outdoor News.

“Maybe that will be through the courts or maybe through legislation, but it will happen one way or another.

“When they do come off the list we will have all the tools to manage them, while maintaining a viable population on the landscape,” Youngedyke said.

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