By JOHN PEPIN, Journal Staff Writer
MARQUETTE — U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials announced Monday that gray wolves will be removed from federal threatened and endangered species lists in the western Great Lakes states, including Michigan.
“This is something that we knew was coming, it was just a matter of time,” said Michigan wolf management coordinator Brian Roell of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Marquette.
“It’s something that we definitely wanted to afford us that management on the local (state) level.”The wolf will become a state-managed species in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota 30 days after the delisting rule announced Monday is published in the Federal Register. That publication should occur within the next several days.Delisting is occurring because wolves have met and maintained population recovery goals outlined in the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan.
Those goals include the assured survival of the gray wolf in Minnesota and a population of 100 or more wolves in Wisconsin and Michigan for a minimum of five consecutive years.The recovery plan identified 1,250 to 1,400 as a population goal for Minnesota. Minnesota’s wolf population has been at or above that level since the late 1970s.
The Wisconsin-Michigan wolf population has been above 100 since the winter of 1993-94.“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 Monday during a teleconference.
“The gray wolf recovery efforts are an extraordinary achievement.”Scarlett said states, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens can be proud of their collaborative roles in saving “this icon of wilderness.”
She said only about 1 percent of species on the federal protected lists have reached “recovered” status since the Endangered Species Act became a law in 1973.In addition to the three Great Lakes states where wolves are currently living, the federal delisting of the wolf will also affect areas surrounding Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.This includes portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Researchers report there are more than 430 wolves in the Upper Peninsula and another 30 at Isle Royale National Park. With at least 460 wolves in Wisconsin and more than 3,000 in Minnesota, the western Great Lakes region has a total of about 4,000 wolves.Although the species will no longer be federally protected, wolves remain protected under Michigan law and a person may not kill a wolf except under state permit or in immediate defense of human life, the DNR said.“Delisting does not mean hunting (wolves),” Roell said.
“It doesn’t mean open season on them.”For hunting to occur, a long process to remove wolves from Michigan’s threatened species list would have to be undertaken.But federal delisting will allow states managing wolves greater flexibility in how to deal with problem animals causing livestock depredation or other issues.
“It takes away that federal oversight we had restricting our use of lethal controls and some of our hazing techniques,” Roell said.The Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin departments of natural resources have developed plans to guide future wolf management actions.Wolf protection, control of problem animals, consideration of hunting and trapping, as well as maintenance of the long-term health of the wolf population will be governed by the appropriate state or tribe.
The DNR is revising its Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan, first written in the early 1990s. The plan revision will allow the DNR to continue to conserve and manage wolves based on the best available scientific information.A Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, convened by the DNR last year, included representation from nearly two dozen agencies and organizations.Groups represented ranged in diversity from the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation and Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance to the Michigan Humane Society and Defenders of Wildlife.
The panel’s report entitled “Recommended Guiding Principles for Wolf Management in Michigan” released in December offered 29 directives for state officials.State DNR officials said they hope the panel’s consensus on several key wolf issues will help create a Michigan wolf management plan widely acceptable to the general public.
A draft of the state’s revised wolf management plan, which will incorporate the roundtable recommendations, is slated for release and public comment this spring.Once a species is removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection, there are several safeguards to help ensure it continues to thrive, including a mandatory five-year monitoring period.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has the ability to immediately relist a species on an emergency basis, if monitoring or other data show that is necessary.
“What we’re going to be doing is continuing the data collection that the states and tribes have been doing over the years,” said Ron Refsnider, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis.
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