The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced it will again try to take gray wolves off the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Since 2004, the agency has tried three times to take that action for wolves in the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
But each time, the agency was thwarted by lawsuits from environmental groups who continue to contend that wolves haven't recovered enough over their historic U.S. range to justify delisting. These groups also say wolf populations are being threatened with disease and inbreeding with coyotes in some areas.
While we understand these concerns, we think the time to delist gray wolves arrived a long time ago. Biologists in our region tout the recovery of the gray wolf as a rousing success story. There are currently about 4,200 wolves living in the three Great Lakes states.
Taking wolves off the federal endangered species list would give state governments and Indian tribes in the western Great Lakes region the ability to manage wolves according to detailed management plans. Those plans were developed and supported by diverse interests ranging in Michigan from the Sierra Club to hunting and trapping organizations.
With wolves having reached population goals years ago, the time to remove their federal endangered species status has been long overdue. Management by state wildlife officials is the right answer.
Without state oversight, including the ability to use lethal control measures, members of the general public have illegally been taking the killing of wolves into their own hands, despite significant penalties if convicted, including jail time, loss of hunting privileges, fines and restitution.
The DNRE has said those illegal killings, along with inability of states to respond favorably to problems, is leading to more destructive confrontations between wolves and humans.
Under the Michigan management plan, a select number of problem wolves could only be killed by state agencies after other methods of deterring the killing of livestock and pets have failed. No hunting or trapping season for the wolves would be established with delisting, at least in the short-term. That idea remains a bridge to consider crossing at some point in the future.
But for now, with a wide range of support from lawmakers to environmental groups to hunters, Indian tribes and members of the general public, the Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to delist gray wolves should be approved, for both the good of the species and its interactions with the public.