By TRAVIS SANFORD
WASHINGTON (CN) – Gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin have recovered and no longer require protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, a federal agency said Wednesday.
Covering wolf populations that are collectively known as the Western Great Lakes distinct population segment, the agency’s action includes wolves in the three core states and wolves in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Environmentalists hope the decision to separate the West Great Lakes populations from a proposal it made earlier this year to delist all gray wolves in the eastern half of the country has been dropped. The agency said it would continue its ongoing review of that plan.
The agency says there are more than 4,000 gray wolves in the three core recovery states in the western Great Lakes area, well above recovery goals established when they were listed under the act.
After a species is removed from the federal list, states must adopt plans to protect the species. The species populations are then monitored for five years to determine if the population is sustainable without the federal protection.
Congress stripped protection of gray wolf populations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah in 2011. Meanwhile the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted wolves in Wyoming and threatened to delist all populations of the gray wolf in eastern United States, arguing that the historic range of the species did not extend to most of the states.
Several states that have taken over management of their gray wolf populations announced bounties on the animals to reduce their numbers, ostensibly to protect livestock.
The conservation group the Center for Biological Diversity says Minnesota has already announced a bounty of $150 per wolf hide, while Wisconsin plans to cull its population by half.
In 2009, the last time hunting of gray wolves was allowed in Idaho and Montana, 73 and 185 animals were killed in each state respectively. Oregon wildlife officials have decided they need to kill two of the state’s estimated 25 wolves to protect livestock.
Gray wolves were originally listed as subspecies or as regional populations of subspecies in the lower 48 states and Mexico under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
In 1978, the service reclassified the gray wolf as an endangered species across all of the lower 48 states and Mexico, except in Minnesota where the gray wolf was classified as threatened.