Gray wolf to be removed from Endangered Species List in Great Lake states

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Early this afternoon, I received a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, indicating the gray wolf will be removed from “the list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants” in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and in portions of adjoining states.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the wolf populations have recovered in the region enough to prompt this move.

The news of the recovery of the populations is great, but I always worry when a formerly endangered species is removed from the list. I want to make sure these animals maintain some degree of protection, otherwise it is too easy for them to return to the list.

The Associated Press story included the following troubling paragraphs –

“” The decision follows a trend of the federal government wanting to get out of the wolf protection business after devoting four decades and tens of millions of dollars to saving the species. “”

“” Instead, individual states are being given control over the future of the legendary predator. “”

This policy could spell doom for gray wolves in states where less-than-humane state legislatures could remove vital protections. We need to enact better policies for animal welfare and the protection of wildlife. We do not need to take huge steps backward, which is what this news seems to suggest.

From the US Fish and Wildlife release –

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“Once again, the Endangered Species Act has proved to be an effective tool for bringing species back from the brink of extinction,” Secretary Salazar said. “Thanks to the work of our scientists, wildlife managers, and our state, tribal, and stakeholder partners, gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region are now fully recovered and healthy.”

The rule removing ESA protection for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

“Gray wolves are thriving in the Great Lakes region, and their successful recovery is a testament to the hard work of the Service and our state and local partners,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “We are confident state and tribal wildlife managers in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin will effectively manage healthy wolf populations now that federal protection is no longer needed.”

Wolves total more than 4,000 animals in the three core recovery states in the western Great Lakes area and have exceeded recovery goals. Minnesota’s population is estimated at 2,921 wolves, while an estimated 687 wolves live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and another 782 in Wisconsin. Each state has developed a plan to manage wolves after federal protection is removed.

Wolf populations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan will be monitored for at least five years to ensure the species continues to thrive. If it appears, at any time, that the gray wolf cannot sustain itself without the protections of the ESA, the Service can initiate the listing process, including emergency listing.

In the Service’s May 5, 2011, proposal to delist western Great Lakes wolves, the agency also proposed accepting recent taxonomic information that the gray wolf subspecies Canis lupus lycaon should be elevated to the full species Canis lycaon, and that the population of wolves in the Western Great Lakes is a mix of the two full species, Canis lupus and Canis lycaon. Based on substantial information received from scientists and others during the public comment period, the Service has re-evaluated that proposal, and the final rule considers all wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS to be Canis lupus.

The Service also previously proposed delisting gray wolves in all or parts of 29 states in the eastern half of the United States. The Service continues to evaluate that portion of the May 5, 2011, proposal and will make a final separate determination at a later date.

Gray wolves were originally listed as subspecies or as regional populations of subspecies in the lower 48 states and Mexico under the ESA in 1973 and its predecessor statutes before that. In 1978, the Service reclassified the gray wolf as an endangered species across all of the lower 48 states and Mexico, except in Minnesota where the gray wolf was classified as threatened.

More information on the recovery of gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes can be found at www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/

The ESA provides a critical safety net for America’s native fish, wildlife and plants. The Service works to actively engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover imperiled species.

To learn more about the Endangered Species Program, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

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