United States official says wolf population has recovered

James Marshall
March 8, 2019

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon propose a rule to delist the gray wolf in the lower 48 states", the agency said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

"Wolf recovery is still underway in the US with wolves just starting to reappear in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest where they had been hunted to extinction".

The Fish & Wildlife Service, part of the U.S. Interior Department, has tried multiple times - through the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations - to delist wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and MI, saying the big predators have fully recovered there after brushing with extinction in the 1960s and 1970s. Since the mid-1990s, the Northern Rockies population has expanded to Oregon, Washington and California.

But the Trump administration said last June, and reaffirmed Wednesday, that it will take its turn at developing a broader wolf proposal that will hold up in court.

Gray wolves received endangered species protections in 1975 when there were about 1,000 of them left.

The proposal would remove federal protections for all gray wolves, with the exception of Mexican gray wolves, which are listed separately under the Endangered Species Act.

The Trump administration is seeking to lift Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf, arguing the predators found mainly in the western United States have been brought back successfully from the brink of extinction.

"We think that it's really important that those state officials and our state justice system keep a watchful eye on any wolf poaching cases and hand out severe sentences as appropriate for any wolf poachers, given the scarcity of the species", Gunnell said. Now, there are more than 5,000, mostly in the upper Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountain regions.

The move would have the most impact on Minnesota, Wisconsin and MI - and places where wolves haven't re-settled - because Congress already stripped wolves in Idaho and Montana of protections in 2011 and Wyoming wolves in 2017.

Gunnell said the delisting would shift the responsibility of prosecuting wolf poachers to state and local officials.

Wildlife advocates say lifting the protections could halt wolves from returning to areas where they have been absent for decades. Hunting already is allowed in the Northern Rockies states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The Endangered Species Act states that a species needs to be recovered within a significant portion of the animal's range.

John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist at Michigan Technological University, said most wolf experts probably would agree the species is not at imminent risk. If wolves are returned to state management, he said, "I do worry that some of the states could be overly aggressive and that wolves could fare worse than their current condition".

Lifting protections would allow hunters to kill wolves and likely slow their expansion. It backed off after federal courts struck down its plan for "delisting" the species in the western Great Lakes region states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials disclosed to the AP a year ago that another scientific review of the animal's status had been launched.

Ryan Yates, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, applauded the federal agency's plan and said many farmers and ranchers have lost livestock to wolf kills since the species was granted legal protections.

He says farmers and ranchers obey the law and would respect whatever policies the states establish to protect wolves.

"They have to make it through Wyoming and Idaho to get to Colorado, and that simply won't happen", Bachman said. That decision was upheld in 2017 by a federal appeals court decision, keeping wolves protected across the region to this point.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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