Feds Propose Lifting Gray Wolf Protections

by Wisconsin Public Radio

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plans to propose a rule to “delist” the gray wolf from the endangered-species list in the Lower 48 states.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made the announcement March 6. The move would return management to the states and tribes, which would reinstate Wisconsin’s wolf hunt, which began in 2012.

“Recovery of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is one of our nation’s great conservation successes, with the wolf joining other cherished species such as the bald eagle that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA,” said a USFWS spokesperson in a statement. “Once the proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register, the public will have an opportunity to comment.”

A federal judge ruled in December 2014 that the gray wolf should be placed back on the endangered species list in the western Great Lakes region.

The delisting announcement was hailed as a positive step for those who have been pushing to lift protections for the gray wolf in light of conflicts with livestock and other animals. At the same time, environmental groups denounced the proposal as a political move that would threaten the animal’s recovery to its historic range.

Wisconsin’s wolf population has grown to a minimum of around 900 wolves, according to the most recent data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“Numbers now in Minnesota, Michigan, as well as Wisconsin are well above federal recovery levels and levels that are listed in state wolf-management plans,” said Scott Walter, DNR large-carnivore specialist. “I think delisting is certainly biologically justified.”

Around 5,500 wolves currently exist in the continental United States, but that’s a fraction of the species’ historic range, according to representatives of environmental and animal-protection groups, including Melissa Tedrowe, Midwest region director for the Humane Society of the United States.

“We believe wolves still need these protections,”  Tedrowe said. “While we will continue to fight for them, we do not think that states are responsible managers of wolves, and experience has shown that. We’ll be in this fight for the long haul.”

Tedrowe also voiced concerns over reinstating Wisconsin’s wolf hunt and the use of what she called “egregiously cruel” methods to hunt wolves, including the use of leg-hold traps and dogs. Wisconsin hunters killed 528 wolves in the three seasons when a hunt was held in the state before the animal was placed back on the endangered-species list.

State data show there were 51 confirmed cases of wolf depredation in 2018, including dogs and livestock. The number of confirmed wolf depredations declined from 76 in 2016 to 42 in 2017.

Tedrowe argued that wolf depredation on livestock has been greatly exaggerated in Wisconsin, noting there are nonlethal means to control problem wolves. Farmers contend that such methods – such as flagging, electric barriers, and lighting or sound devices – are ineffective.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the USFWS in December to maintain protections for gray wolves. The gray wolf was last delisted in 2012.