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Gray wolf advocates are celebrating the animal’s return to the endangered species list once again after a federal judge ruled that President Obama’s 2012 removal of protections from the Great Lakes population violated the Endangered Species Act. Washington D.C. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell’s decision takes back management rights from the states puts a taboo on continued wolf hunting in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The three states have each held at least one hunting season federal protections were dropped.
The Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit alleging that state management had failed, allowing over 1,500 Great Lakes gray wolves to be killed, putting wolf recovery at grave risk. The group’s senior vice president, Jonathan Lovvorn characterized the delisting decision as a “flawed” attempt to give states a chance to manage the endangered wolf population without considering the deep-seated fear that still drives state policies. Michigan state officials are conferring with their Attorney General’s office to evaluate the implications of the decision, on both immediate and long-term management of the gray wolf population in the region before deciding on the next steps.
Not all conservation proponents are pleased, however. Michigan United Conservation Club’s executive director, Dan Eichinger believes the ruling misrepresents the spirit of the Endangered Species Act in the protection of the Great Lakes gray wolf population. He believes that the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) professionals are more than adequately qualified to make the wolf management decisions and control ought to remain in their hands. He is disturbed that the state once again has no control over what happens to the species within its own borders. Minnesota DNR spokesperson, Chris Niskanen maintains that the agency is capable of managing a wolf hunt without putting gray wolf survival at risk. He asserts that numerous wolf experts nationwide support the claim that harvesting wolves is not the antithesis of maintaining a healthy gray wolf population.
This is the fourth time since 2003 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has made an attempt to remove federal protections from the species and let the states decide how to best help the animals within their borders thrive within healthy population limits. Each time the courts have intervened to reinstate federal protections. Lovvorn states that state management plans are hostile to healthy recovery of the gray wolf population, bringing about drastic diminution of the gray wolf numbers. The latest court ruling limits the killing of the gray wolf to cases of “defense of human life” or suspicion of livestock depredation. Judge Howell chided the USFWS for their repeated attempts to remove protections from the gray wolf before it is fully established over its entire historic range. Howell’s decision is in line with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman’s decision to return the gray wolf to Wyoming’s endangered species list in September 2014.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wolf expert, David Mech finds the court’s decision to again wrest control from the states bewildering in light of substantial scientific evidence that the gray wolf is, in fact, not endangered in any of the three states affected by this decision. He contends that the birth rate of gray wolves far exceeds the kill rate. Nonetheless, the court’s decision puts the gray wolf on the endangered species list in Michigan and Wisconsin and the threatened list in Minnesota.
Minnesota Center for Biological Diversity attorney, Collette Adkins Giese is pleased with the court’s corroboration that gray wolf recovery needs to be more widespread before they can truly be considered “recovered.” She cites the speed at which the states returned to legalizing wolf hunting again once the restrictions were removed, as evidence of the same undiminished passion based on fear and hatred of the gray wolf that led to their endangered status in the first place. She maintains that removing the federal protections is premature and that much recovery and retraining of the public perception of the gray wolf is necessary before the animals can thrive in the region without federal supervision.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Tracy Brooks/USFWS – Flickr License