MARQUETTE - State wildlife officials angered and frustrated over federal protection for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes Region say the species is being exploited for political gain.
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a final rule in the Federal Register, acknowledging Endangered Species Act protections for that segment of wolf populations had been reinstated.
Publishing the rule complied with a court order and settlement agreement, which restored wolf protections on July 1. This was the result of a lawsuit against the agency by five groups including the Humane Society of the United States.
(AP file photo)
The groups sued after wolves in the western Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota were removed previously from the federal Endangered Species List.
Relisting the gray wolf removes the ability of state governments and Indian tribes to manage the species according to detailed management plans, which were developed and supported by diverse interests ranging in Michigan from the Sierra Club to hunting and trapping organizations.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said some people in the Upper Peninsula think "wolves are the Antichrist."
He said attendees at two recent citizen advisory committee meetings had mostly negative things to say about Michigan's wolf population, especially in relation to its presumed effect on deer populations.
"The most egregious thing about wolves is that states don't have the authority (to manage them)," Mason said.
State management would allow the DNRE to use lethal means to control a select number of problem wolves, after other measures have failed. State rules adopted, but not in effect without delisting, would allow property owners to legally dispatch wolves killing livestock or pets.
Mason said the wolves in the western Great Lakes states have met recovery population goals a decade ago. He said groups fighting to keep wolves on the federal endangered species list are not motivated by science.
"It has nothing to do with ecology and biology of wolves," Mason said. "We think it is outrageous wolves remain on the endangered species list."
Mason said money is being put toward protecting wolves at the expense of other species whose protections have been warranted, but precluded because of cost concerns.
Despite the wolf's comeback from near-extinction in the region over the past two decades, some activists insist it remains vulnerable.
Earlier in 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections, as the Obama administration upheld a Bush-era finding that the wolf could survive under state management. The animal protection and environmental groups disagreed.
Delisting opponents insist wolves are a species that was "driven to the brink of extinction on the states' watch."
Management plans crafted by Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin would not allow wolves to be hunted or trapped, but the plans leave the door open for future hunts and other measures that could reduce wolf numbers by up to 50 percent, according to delisting opponents.
Mason said any new attempt to remove wolves from the federal Endangered Species List may be as far as five years off, a time span state officials find untenable.
Legislators may be able to help the situation.
"One thing people can do is raise the awareness of their federal delegation on this issue," Mason said.
In waiting for delisting, wildlife officials in Michigan hope to be able to secure authority to control problem wolves.
Mason said there have been investigations into six collared wolves killed in Michigan in the last year and eight others in Wisconsin.
Those illegal killings, along with inability of states to respond favorably to problems, is leading to more destructive confrontations between wolves and humans.
Gray wolves were listed as endangered in 1974. They had been wiped out across most of the lower 48 states by hunting and government-sponsored poisoning, although a remnant population survived in northern Minnesota.
By the late 1980s, some of those wolves had migrated into Wisconsin and the U.P., where they rapidly spread. About 3,000 are believed to live in Minnesota. Michigan has roughly 580 and Wisconsin is home to as many as 662 wolves.