Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hearings set on wolf status in Michigan

By JOHN PEPIN, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public hearing in Marquette next week to take comments on the agency’s plans to delist the gray wolf from federal threatened and endangered species lists. “The purpose of it (the hearing) is to get feedback from people about this proposal we’re offering,” said Ron Refsnider, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in St. Paul, Minn.

Refsnider will offer a roughly 1-hour informational presentation on features of the wolf proposal and provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act, beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Michigan Room of the University Center at Northern Michigan University. Fish and Wildlife Service officials will then record testimony from 7:30 until 9 p.m. during the public hearing. Written comments are also being solicited until June 26.

A total of four such meetings are being held on the wolf delisting proposal in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Hearings have already taken place in Wausau, Wis. and Duluth, Minn., with the final meeting scheduled to follow Marquette’s session Wednesday in downstate Grayling.

On March 16, U.S. Dept. of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced the recovery of gray wolves in the western Great Lakes Region and the Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to remove the species from the protected list. The action, if finalized by the agency after soliciting public comment through the series of public hearings and other communications, would entrust management of the species to state wildlife agencies and Indian tribes.

Only wolves in the western Great Lakes region would be affected by the new proposal. Currently, there are at least 3,020 wolves living throughout Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, which is roughly 80 percent of all the wolves living in the lower 48 states.

“This is a follow-up proposal to one we had a couple of years ago,” Refsnider said. That prior proposal, was deemed by courts hearing lawsuits last year to be too far-reaching in terms of geographic areas slated for wolf delisting. Refsnider said the new proposal is biologically sound in its scope and boundaries. “We believe we are complying with the courts,” Refsnider said.

The new proposal would lift federal protections for wolves in all of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. This area 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 distinct population segment also includes surrounding areas into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.

Gray wolf populations would be monitored for five years after delisting. If any drastic threats to the populations arose, emergency relisting could be imposed.

Following the 90-day public comment period ending June 26, the Fish and Wildlife Service will evaluate all information 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. Officials said in March they expected it will take eight months to a year to reach a final decision.

Norton said some of the benefits to having a recovered wolf population in the region include healthier, more resilient ecosystems, a potential tourism source by travelers wanting to see or hear wolves and the value to children and future generations in knowing that an endangered species was preserved. Gray wolves were first placed on the federal endangered species list in 1974. At that time, there were only gray wolves living in northern Minnesota and on Isle Royale, in the lower 48 states.

Comments on the western Great Lakes wolf delisting proposal may be submitted by e-mail to WGLwolfdelist@fws.gov

Letters may sent to WGL Wolf Delisting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056 or by sending a fax to 612-713-5292.

More information on gray wolf recovery and the delisting proposal can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/ wolf

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