Great Lakes wolves to lose federal protection
Thousands of gray wolves in the Midwest will soon be stripped of federal safeguards under the Endangered Species Act, the government said on Wednesday, in a move that could open the animals to state-licensed hunting.
An estimated 4,000 wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and parts of adjacent states are due to lose their status as either endangered or threatened species on January 27, 2012 under the newly issued U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule.
Some environmental groups criticized the action as likely to jeopardize the wolf's recovery, but federal wildlife managers said the animal's population had grown robust enough to hand control of the iconic predator back to the states.
A review of the Great Lakes wolf population found the species has exceeded its recovery goals in recent years, Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement.
The agency estimates there are now 2,921 wolves in Minnesota, 687 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and 782 in Wisconsin.
The announcement comes nearly eight months after a separate population of some 1,200 wolves in Montana and Idaho were removed from the endangered species list through an unprecedented act of Congress.
That action marked the first time a specific creature was delisted by legislation rather than through a process of scientific review laid out under the Endangered Species Act. It also applied to several dozen wolves in Oregon, Utah and Washington state.
The government has proposed lifting protections for another 350 wolves in Wyoming.
Wolves were once hunted, trapped and poisoned to the edge of extinction nationwide. But their recovery in the Midwest and Northern Rockies has brought them into renewed conflict with ranchers, farmers and sportsmen who see the wolf as a threat to livestock and big-game animals, such as elk and deer.
Environmentalists say wolf impact on cattle herds and wildlife has been overstated. They fear removal of Endangered Species Act protections could ultimately push the wolf back to the brink.
"We're very disappointed. We think this decision is a mistake," said Howard Goldman, the Minnesota state director for the Humane Society.
"This may have a devastating impact on the wolf population. We don't see any basis for a public hunt, recreational killing of wolves for sport."
Photo credit: Gary Kramer, USFS