U.S. Secretary of the Interior (SOI) Ken Salazar this week announced that gray wolf populations in the Great Lakes region have recovered and no longer require Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection. Effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, ESA protection will be removed from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with management handed over to state and tribal wildlife officials.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says wolves now total more than 4,000 in the three core recovery states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Minnesota’s gray wolf population is estimated at 2,921 wolves, while an estimated 687 wolves live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and another 782 in Wisconsin.

While the announcement was heartily welcomed, proponents of delisting the wolf in the Great Lakes region are taking a wait-and-see attitude on the latest pronouncement.

“We’ve had the wolves delisted several times in the past few years here in Minnesota. In fact, DOI/FWS have been attempting to delist the wolves in the Midwest since back in 2000; but, so far, they haven’t been successful in keeping them delisted,” says Dale Lueck. He’s a north-central Minnesota rancher in Aitkin who has long worked on the delisting issue.

In fact, Lueck says, the wolf was delisted and managed by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan without incident for 18 months in 2007-2008. But, in fall 2008, a federal judge in Washington, DC, sided with the Humane Society of U.S. and placed the Midwest wolves back under ESA protection. The winning argument was that wolves had been removed from protection without a legally required comment period. Since that decision, however, action to delist the wolf had stalled.

“This week’s attempt to delist by administrative rule process isn’t protected from the inevitable judicial tampering that animal rights folks will initiate,” Lueck says. “To date, the only wolf delisting that has stuck is that in Montana and Idaho. That was successful specifically because Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester included statutory protection from judicial review of their delisting. That happened in April 2011 during the final continuing resolution for funding the federal government for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.”

Lueck says proponents of this most recent delisting had bipartisan support among Minnesota’s key U.S. Representatives, which include Chip Cravaack, John Kline and Collin Peterson. The trio included statutory protection language similar to the Montana verbiage into the DOI/FWS funding bill that was passed last week.

“However, Minnesota’s two U.S. Senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken) allowed that language to be lined out at the Obama administration’s urging. So the Midwest wolves remain at risk of very quickly being forced back under ESA protection by court action,” Lueck says.

More information on the recovery of gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes can be found at www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/.

For more BEEF magazine coverage of the wolf issue, see:

Minnesotans Sue Federal Government Over Wolves

Western Ranchers Fight The Curse Of Introduced Wolves