Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wolf delisted in Great Lakes: Not endangered

MARQUETTE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has crafted a new proposal for taking gray wolves in several Great Lakes states off the federal threatened and endangered species lists.

The action, if finalized by the agency after soliciting public comment, would entrust management of the species to state wildlife agencies and American Indian tribes.

U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced today that gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have recovered from the threat of extinction, prompting the Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing the wolves in this region from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

In addition to its delisting proposal, the agency also proposes to designate gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region as a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act.

“We commend our partners — states, tribes, conservation organizations, and the public — for their dedicated efforts to ensure the wolf is an enduring part of the landscape in the upper Midwest,” Norton said in a written statement. “Our proposal to delist the gray wolf indicates our confidence that those who will assume management of the species will safeguard its long-term survival.”

The proposal is available for review, and the agency will soon announce details for a series of public hearings to be held throughout the region.

Following the public comment period, the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate public comment and make a decision on whether to finalize the proposal.

Until a final decision is made, wolves in the western Great Lakes remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The new proposal comes after U.S. District Court rulings last year in Vermont and Oregon. Those rulings overturned a 2003 Fish and Wildlife Service final rule that reclassified wolves in most of the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened and established three distinct wolf population segments.

The court rulings also invalidated a 2004 proposal to delist the gray wolf in the eastern United States. In December, the Justice Department withdrew out appeals to the court rulings while the Fish and Wildlife Service began working on its new proposal.

The new plan defines a smaller western Great Lakes population segment including wolves in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

The distinct segment is narrowly structured around the core areas where wolves have exceeded recovery goals since 1999 and nearby areas where wolf packs may become established in the future.

The segment also includes surrounding areas into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.

Department of Natural Resources officials in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have long supported removal of the federal protections for wolves in the upper Great Lakes.

Michigan DNR Director Rebecca Humphries was among top DNR officials in the three states signing a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year.

The letter urged the agency to immediately begin a focused delisting process to remove gray wolves from the federal endangered and threatened species list.

“This process is long overdue and needs to be completed as soon as possible,” the letter stated. “If delisting is not completed soon, we fear further backlash for wolves and loss of support for endangered species management.”

Gray wolves in Michigan are currently listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act and a threatened species under Michigan law.

Last year, state officials said wolf depredations on domestic animals were increasing in Michigan and Wisconsin and continued to remain high in Minnesota. More than 70 percent of the wolf attacks on pet dogs confirmed in Michigan since 1996 occurred between 2002-05.

“As wolves expand farther into agricultural and residential areas in Michigan, the incidence of these conflicts is expected to increase exponentially with population size,” the letter said. “It’s time to return wolf management authorities to these states so that spread of wolves into agricultural areas can be controlled and reasonable restraints can be applied to wolf population growth.”

In 2004, a minimum of 361 wolves occurred in Michigan. Wolves began returning naturally to the Upper Peninsula via Wisconsin and Canada in the late 1980s.

Today, the minimum estimate of population size in the U.P. is about 400 animals, comparable to Wisconsin, while Minnesota has more than 3,000 wolves. New DNR surveys to estimate the U.P. wolf population are under way.

Last year, wolves were found in the Lower Peninsula for the first time in decades.

The new Fish and Wildlife Service proposal would also remove Endangered Species Act protection for critical habitat for the gray wolf in Michigan and Minnesota and eliminate special rules for wolf management in Minnesota.

  • The Mining Journal

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