The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) this week announced a proposal to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes area. The agency says wolves in the three core recovery states of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and continue to thrive. In addition, the agency says each state has developed a plan to manage wolves once federal protection ends.
Wolf numbers are estimated about 4,000 animals in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Minnesota has around 3,000 wolves; there are about 557 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and another 690 in Wisconsin.
The agency is asking the public to review the proposal and submit comments within 60 days if its publication in the Federal Register. The proposed rule was delivered to the Federal Register on April 18 and is expected to publish within the next two weeks.
Following the close of the comment period, the USFWS will consider all new information and other data and make a final decision on the proposal to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes. In the meantime, gray wolves will remain classified as endangered in Michigan and Wisconsin, and classified as threatened in Minnesota.
Wolves historically ranged over most of the United States, but by the late 1960’s, had been hunted, trapped, and poisoned to near extinction in the lower 48 states. Only a small population survived in Northeastern Minnesota and on Isle Royale. In 1974, these last remaining wolves, estimated at about 700 animals, were granted full protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.
This is the fourth time the federal government has considered removing gray wolves in the Great Lakes region from the Endangered Species List (ESL). Three previous efforts were blocked by the courts or withdrawn over procedural errors. The current review is in response to petitions filed last year by the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, Safari Club International, and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Delisting efforts are opposed by conservation groups on the grounds that wolves currently occupy only 5 percent of their historical range and should remain protected until a national recovery plan can be put in place.
Written comments may be submitted by one of the following methods: Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R3-ES-2011-0029].
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS-R3-ES-2011-0029]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
More information on the recovery of gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/.