WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that gray wolf populations in the Great Lakes region have recovered and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing a final rule in the Federal Register removing wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in portions of adjoining states, from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.
“Once again, the Endangered Species Act has proved to be an effective tool for bringing species back from the brink of extinction,” 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 federal delisting rule removing wolves from the endangered species list will be published in the Federal Register Wednesday, Dec. 28, and will take effect Friday, Jan. 27, 30 days after its publication.
State wildlife managers who have spent years developing management plans for gray wolves applauded the announcement. They said returning wolves to state management will allow for more effective management of the species under those plans, which were created through a roundtable process involving interested parties representing viewpoints from all sides of the wolf issue.
“This is great news for the state’s wolf population and for Michigan citizens who have been affected by this issue,” said Michigan DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Treating wolves as an endangered species, when the population has exceeded federal recovery goals in Michigan for more than a decade, has negatively impacted public opinion in areas of Michigan where wolves are established on the landscape. I firmly believe that the more flexible management options allowed under the state’s Wolf Management Plan will help increase social acceptance of the species while maintaining a healthy, sustainable wolf population.”
Once wolves are removed from the endangered species list, the Michigan DNR will continue to recommend nonlethal methods of control first, including flashing lights, flagging and noisemakers. In addition, the DNR administers a grant program that provides some funding to livestock owners with depredation issues for improved fencing and guard animals such as llamas, donkeys and Great Pyrenees dogs.
However, in cases where nonlethal methods are not working or feasible, DNR officials will now have the ability to kill problem wolves when appropriate. Under federal Endangered Species Act protection, wolves are protected from lethal control measures except in defense of human safety.
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 U.S. Fish & Wildlife 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.