Monday, January 19, 2009

Great Lakes Gray Wolves Removed from Endangered Species List

gray wolf
Gray wolf Credit: Gary Kramer / USFWS
from a news release of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett announced, on January 14, the removal of the western Great Lakes population and portions of the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The success of gray wolf recovery efforts in these areas has contributed to expanding populations of wolves that no longer require the protection of the Act. However, gray wolves found within the borders of Wyoming will continue to be protected by the Act due to a lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms ensuring their protection under state law.

"Wolves have recovered in the Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountains because of the hard work, cooperation and flexibility shown by States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions," said Scarlett. "We can all be proud of our various roles in saving this icon of the American wilderness."

The decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to take effect 30 days after the publication of two separate rules, one for each population, in the Federal Register. The two rules address concerns raised during two separate federal court actions last summer requiring the Service to reinstate Endangered Species Act protections for the two populations. The western Great Lakes population was originally removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants in March 2007, while the northern Rocky Mountain population was first delisted in February 2008.

Gray wolves were previously listed as endangered in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota where they were listed as threatened. The Service oversees three separate recovery programs for the gray wolf; each has its own recovery plan and recovery goals based on the unique characteristics of wolf populations in each geographic area. Wolves in other parts of the 48 states, including the Southwest wolf population, remain endangered and are not affected by the actions taken today.

The area included in the DPS boundary includes the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The DPS includes all the areas currently occupied by wolf packs in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as nearby areas in these states in which wolf packs may become established in the future. The DPS also includes surrounding areas into which wolves may disperse but are not likely to establish packs.

Rebounding from a few hundred wolves in Minnesota in the 1970s when listed as endangered, the region's gray wolf population now numbers about 4,000 and occupies large portions of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Wolf numbers in the three states have exceeded the numerical recovery criteria established in the species' recovery plan for several years. In Minnesota, the population is estimated at 2,922. The estimated wolf population in Wisconsin is a minimum of 537, and about 520 wolves are believed to inhabit Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources have developed plans to guide wolf management actions in the future. The Service has determined that these plans establish a sufficient basis for long-term wolf management. They address issues such as protective regulations, control of problem animals, possible hunting and trapping seasons, and the long-term health of the wolf population, and will be governed by the appropriate state or tribe.

"The Service is committed to ensuring wolves thrive in the Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountains and will continue to work with the states to ensure this successful recovery is maintained," said Gould.

The Service will monitor the delisted wolf populations for a minimum of five years to ensure that they continue to sustain their recovery. At the end of the monitoring period, the Service will decide if relisting, continued monitoring, or ending Service monitoring is appropriate.
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