Wolves in the western Great Lakes region were removed from federal protection on Wednesday, when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that populations in the area have recovered.
"Once again, the Endangered Species Act has proved to be an effective tool for bringing species back from the brink of extinction," Salazar said in a press release. "Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region are now fully recovered and healthy."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will publish a final rule removing gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as portions of adjoining states, from the list of endangered and threatened species. Previously, wolves were considered endangered in all 48 states and Mexico, with two exceptions: the Northern Rockies gray wolf population, which was removed from federal protection in May, and wolves in Minnesota, which have been considered threatened (but not endangered) since 1978.
The rule will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The agency estimates that the number of wolves in the three core states have a population of about 4,000 animals, with 2,921 in Minnesota alone. Roughly 690 wolves live in Michigan's upper peninsula, with another 782 in Wisconsin.
Despite these numbers, wolf advocates say the species is far from biologically recovered. Collette Adkins Giese, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release that the population might not be able to withstand a potential hunting season.
"Wolf recovery in the Midwest has been a tremendous success, but the job is far from complete," she said. "The three Great Lakes states with wolves all plan to kill more wolves and to reduce populations through hunts and other means. Wolves remain threatened by human intolerance and persecution."
According to a press release from the Department of the Interior, wolf populations will be managed by the states and monitored over the next five years to ensure true recovery. Minnesota's wolf management plan includes a bounty hunt by state-certified hunters who will be paid $150 for each wolf killed. Wisconsin's plan calls for a population target of 350 wolves—less than half of its current estimated population.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said the agency is certain the states will manage their respective wolf populations responsibly.
"We are confident state and tribal managers in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin will effectively manage healthy wolf populations now that federal protection is no longer needed," he said.
Removal of federal protection for gray wolves in the region was originally proposed in May, along with removal of wolves in all or parts of 29 states in the eastern half of the nation. The agency has yet to make a ruling on this part of the proposal, and for now, wolves in these states remain protected—to the relief of wolf advocates.
"We are so relieved that wolves in the Northeast will retain their protections," Giese said. "The Service now needs to develop a recovery plan so that wolves can once again thrive in the Northeast."
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com