Court upholds delisting of wolves in Wyoming; Great Lakes decision still pending

In the Great Lakes region in the late 2000s, you could be forgiven for not knowing the status of gray wolves.

The species volleyed back-and-forth from listed to delisted, including a short-lived hunting season that ended when wolves were, on December 19, 2014, again placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

But today, the first of two high-profile cases involving wolves’ listing status was decided: A federal appeals court upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 decision to delist wolves in Wyoming, reversing a lower-court ruling that restored federal protections, according to reports. Wyoming has roughly 400 wolves, and the court ruling indicates Wyoming has adequate management plans to ensure a healthy population.

A similar case in the Great Lakes is still pending.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long contended that wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have recovered to the point where they’re no longer threatened, so hunting and trapping should again be allowed under state control.

Gray wolves were once hunted to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, but they recovered under Endangered Species Act protections and reintroduction programs to the point where they now number around 5,500, according to Fish and Wildlife. The combined gray wolf population of the three western Great Lakes states is now about 4,000. The agency described wolf numbers in Wyoming and those Great Lakes states as “robust, stable and self-sustaining.”

But federal courts have blocked multiple attempts to take them off the endangered list, most recently in 2014. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last fall heard oral arguments in challenges to those rulings before just now ruling on the Wyoming case.

According to reports, the delisting of wolves sooner rather than later would allow farmers to kill the animals if they threaten livestock, and state representatives recently asked House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for a fast floor vote before the season during which most cows and sheep will give birth begins in earnest. That followed testimony before a Senate committee a week earlier from the president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, who said producers need to be able to defend their livestock and livelihoods.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report



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