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Michigan removes wolves from endangered list

By John Flesher
Traverse City, Michigan (AP) 5-09

Michigan dropped the gray wolf from its endangered species list during late April, but it’s uncertain what practical effect the move will have because of a continuing legal squabble over federal wolf policy.

The decision by the Department of Natural Resources is another milestone in the recovery of the wolf from near extinction in the upper Great Lakes region. Its Michigan numbers have risen steadily since the comeback began in the Upper Peninsula in the late 1980s.

Although results of this year’s census are still being tabulated, DNR wolf program coordinator Brian Roell said the population was approaching 600 – up from last year’s total of 520.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in March it was removing wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin from the federal endangered list. The change is scheduled to take effect May 4. At that point, regulatory authority would shift to state and tribal agencies.

But at least five animal-rights and environmental groups have given notice of intent to file lawsuits challenging the federal action. Courts might grant injunctions that would return the wolf to the federal list while the cases move through the system.

“I don’t hold much faith that they’ll stay off the list for very long,” Roell said.

State and federal wildlife officials work together on wolf issues in the region, including attacks on livestock and household pets. But federal law and regulations are the ultimate authority.

Removing the species from the federal list would give the DNR more flexibility to deal with individual problem wolves – which would be better for the population as a whole, Roell said.

“I hope it will build up some good will for wolves if citizens can see Michigan is taking an active role in management of these animals,” he said.


Jonathan Lovvorn, a vice president and attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, said he wasn’t convinced Michigan or neighboring states would adequately protect wolves. The Humane Society is among groups preparing to sue the federal government.

“Their plans do not ensure that the gains we’ve achieved over the last several decades will not quickly be erased,” Lovvorn said.

He said policies adopted by Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin would allow wolf numbers to fall as much as 50 percent. They provide no guarantee that existing bans on hunting and trapping will remain, Lovvorn said.

Roell disputed the suggestion that Michigan would allow its population to drop by half. The state’s plan has no specific targets, he said. Instead, it provides for getting rid of problem wolves and otherwise letting nature take its course.

As of Monday, Michigan classifies wolves as a protected nongame species. Legislative approval would be required to allow hunting and trapping.

But the DNR can kill wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock and pets, and lawmakers in 2008 allowed people to kill wolves caught attacking domestic animals.

The DNR also is developing permits that would let farmers who can prove they’ve had depredation problems kill a limited number of wolves on sight, Roell said.

On the Net: Michigan Department of Natural Resources