The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is removing the western Great Lakes population of gray wolves from the federal list of threatened and endangered species and is also proposing to remove the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from the list.
"Wolves have recovered in the western Great Lakes because efforts to save them from extinction have been a model of cooperation, flexibility, and hard work," Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said today.
Conservationists view these moves as a mixed blessing.
“With this change we have the opportunity to open a new chapter in the relationship between wolves and humans,” said Walter Medwid, executive director of the International Wolf Center based in Minneapolis and Ely, Minnesota.
“As a society we persecuted wolves, then we protected them. What’s next? As states relax some protections, will we tolerate wolves or kill as many as the new laws allow? What happens next is up to citizens living in states where delisting applies," Medwid said.
Once abundant across the United States, wolves were reduced to near extinction by hunting, persecution and habitat destruction. (Photo courtesy FWS) "The wolf’s return in the Great Lakes region is one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the annals of wildlife conservation," the National Wildlife Federation said today.
Just a few decades ago the 200 or so surviving wolves in the lower 48 states faced extinction. The Endangered Species Act protected the small remaining population of gray wolves in northern Minnesota in 1974, and from that population, wolves have recovered naturally throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan meeting the recovery goals under the Endangered Species Act.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service deserves praise for its years of effort, often under great political pressure, to nurture wolves back to health in the Upper Midwest," the National Wildlife Federation said.
But Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "The Fish and Wildlife Service decision is cause for both celebration and alarm, as the Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountain states have very different outlooks on how to manage the wolves after the delisting."
"The Great Lakes wolves are a classic Endangered Species Act success story. The remarkable recovery efforts to restore the wolf have paid off, and the states are ready to assume the responsibilities of managing their own wolf populations," Schlickeisen said. "The states have demonstrated their commitment to wolf recovery while under federal protection, and we look forward to a continued commitment from these states to wolf conservation."
"However, the northern Rockies are another story," he said.
Idaho and Wyoming have state management plans that are geared toward wolf eradication, not wolf conservation. Idaho's governor has said he wants to kill more than 80 percent of the state's wolves and the state has begun planning wolf eradication by hunting and aerial gunning.
Grey wolf pup (Photo courtesy NPCA) Wyoming's plan would allow 16 out of the existing 23 packs of the wolves in the state to be killed on sight. The state would authorize poisoning, trapping and shooting on 90 percent of the wolf's current home range outside the national parks.
While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved wolf management plans in Montana and Idaho, it has determined that Wyoming's state law and wolf management plan are not sufficient to conserve Wyoming's portion of a recovered northern Rocky Mountain wolf population.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall said today that if Wyoming's plan is not approved before the Service decides a final action on this proposal, the agency would continue to protect wolves under the Endangered Species Act in the significant portion of their range in northwest Wyoming. This excludes the national parks, which he says have adequate regulatory mechanisms to conserve wolves.
Hall said that the Service also could move forward to remove the remainder of the wolves in Montana and Idaho and portions of Wyoming, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the list of threatened and endangered species.
"The Service is committed to ensuring that wolves thrive in the northern Rocky Mountains after they are delisted and will continue to work with the states to ensure this successful recovery is maintained," said Hall.
"I look forward, as do all the states that have been involved in wolf recovery, to returning management of the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains to the states."
Once a species is removed from Endangered Species Act protection, there are several safeguards to help ensure it continues to thrive, including a mandatory five year monitoring period.
The Service also has the ability to immediately relist a species on an emergency basis, if monitoring or other data show that is necessary.
Comments from the public are encouraged on this proposal to delist the northern Rocky Mountain population of wolves. They can be emailed to NRMGrayWolf@fws.gov; hand-delivered to USFWS, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601; or mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.
All comments must be received within 60 days of the proposed rule's publication date in the Federal Register. For more information on Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/
The final rule removing gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment from the list of threatened and endangered species will be published in the Federal Register. The rule becomes effective 30 days after publication; until that date, gray wolves remain under the protection of the Endangered Species Act in the western Great Lakes. The rule and other information about the gray wolf may be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf