U.S. Proposes Lifting Wolf Protections In Midwest
Author: David Bailey
A pair of gray wolves are seen in the Red Feather Lakes, Colorado wolf refuge in this file photo.
U.S. wildlife officials proposed on Friday to strip federal protections from a growing western Great Lakes gray wolf population just as a some Rocky Mountain wolves would be removed from the endangered species list by an act of Congress.
About 4,000 gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula would lose their status as endangered or threatened species under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal submitted for public comment.
The announcement comes as the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies is close to becoming the first creature ever taken off the U.S. endangered species list through legislation, rather than by scientific review, under a measure attached to the U.S. budget deal.
In both regions the recovery of a predator once hunted, trapped and poisoned to near extinction has brought the wolf into conflict once again with ranchers, farmers and sportsmen who see the animal as a growing threat to livestock and big-game animals, such as elk or deer.
But environmentalists say wolf impact on cattle herds and wildlife have been overstated and they fear that removal of Endangered Species Act safeguards could ultimately push the wolf back to the brink.
Wolf tensions have run higher in the Rockies due in part to greater regional resentment of federal control over wildlife and land management, a cattle industry that is more deeply ingrained in the area's economy and a wolf population that conservationists view as more fragile.
More than 1,200 wolves classified as endangered in Montana and Idaho would be de-listed by the newly passed "rider" to the budget bill, placing them under state control and allowing licensed hunting of the animals.
That measure also applies to about three dozen wolves in Oregon, Utah and Washington state, and bars judicial review of the de-listings. About 300 additional wolves in Wyoming will remain protected for the time being.
Essentially restoring a 2009 Fish and Wildlife decision struck down in court last August, the legislative de-listing takes effect within 60 days of being signed into law. President Barack Obama was expected to sign the bill on Friday.
In the Western Great Lakes region, the gray wolf population has far exceeded recovery goals and continues to do well enough to be removed from federal protection, the wildlife service said. Wolf management plans adopted by each state set minimum population targets at about half of current numbers, and may pave the way for public hunting in the future.
The wildlife service estimates that there are 2,922 gray wolves in Minnesota, 690 in Wisconsin and 557 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The proposal also covers areas of adjacent states where the wolves have spread from the three states.
"We are taking this step because wolf populations have met recovery goals and no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act," Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Rowan Gould said in a statement.
The wildlife service briefly de-listed the wolf in the Great Lakes region twice before, in 2007 and 2009, but both those moves were rolled back under court challenge from the Humane Society and other groups.
The gray wolf will remain classified as endangered in the Western Great Lakes during the new public comment period, except in Minnesota where they remain listed as threatened.
An estimated 7,000 to 11,000 wolves roam much of Alaska but are so abundant they have never been federally protected.
(Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Idaho and Yereth Rosen in Alaska; Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)