Managing wolf population may return to state
May 1, 2011
LANSING -- Federal wildlife officials have proposed removing the gray wolf from federal protection in the Western Great Lakes area and returning management authority of the animals to the states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed plans last month to delist gray wolves from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened wildlife in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota where the animals have exceeded recovery goals and number 4,000.
The move came with an announcement the USFWS also recognizes two distinct species of wolves in the Western Great Lakes: the gray wolf currently under federal protections, and the eastern wolf.
"We did have (a review of the gray wolf status) a year ago when we received several public petitions from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ... and other groups asking for the delisting of wolves," said Laura Ragan, a wildlife biologist with the USFWS. "This proposal constitutes that decision, but it's something we had in the works and under way already."
Ragan said the genetic variation identified between wolves was enough to warrant a distinct species, but how the newly established eastern wolf will fit into the move to delist the animals is unclear.
"We are trying to mix biology and policy and they don't always cleanly mix," Ragan said.
A USFWS release noted wolf populations are estimated at 2,922 in Minnesota, 690 in Wisconsin and 557 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. All three states already have developed plans to manage wolves. The USFWS will post the delisting proposal in the Federal Registrar soon, and will accept public comment for 60 days from governmental agencies, Native American tribes and citizens on information that could affect the long-term survival of the wolves in the Great Lakes.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Chief Russ Mason said the state plans to submit data supporting the delisting of wolves. He said the state has not reviewed the federal proposal, but is hopeful it includes management authority over wolves for the entire state, rather than the Upper Peninsula alone. A small number of wolves have been found in the Lower Peninsula.
"Gray wolf numbers in Michigan are higher than the intermountain west" where wolves were recently delisted in Montana and Idaho, Mason said.
In 2009, federal officials attempted to remove gray wolves from federal protections, but the decision was overturned in court because the USFWS did not solicit public input beforehand. Wolves remain endangered in Michigan and illegal to kill except in defense of human life until the USFWS makes a final decision on the proposal within the next year. Once delisted, states would resume management authority over the animals.
Michigan's wolf management plan includes provisions to allow officials or property owners to protect livestock by shooting wayward wolves.
Rouge wolf packs last year terrorized Upper Peninsula farms, killing substantially more livestock than previous years and aggravating farmers with limited ability to keep the animals at bay. A state indemnification program has paid out roughly $55,000 for livestock killed in wolf attacks.
Mason said the state has reconvened its wolf roundtable and the group plans to meet in June to discuss the delisting proposal. A public meeting also has been scheduled May 18 for the USFWS proposal in Ashland, Wis., at the Great Lakes Center, Ragan said.
The USFWS proposal process typically takes a year to complete, but Ragan said state and federal officials are pushing for a quicker resolution to the wolf issue.
"We are going to try to expedite this one and have a decision by the end of the year," she said.
Mason believes the state could have management authority sooner, either through the USFWS proposal or other means.
"There are several bills that Congress is (considering) to delist by Congressional fiat," Mason said.
Source: http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf ... may_r.html
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