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MI: Endangered no more: Michigan Department of Natural Resources delists wolves, again

Morgan Sherburne

It’s been a limbo act with wolves.

On Friday, Jan. 27, wolves in the western Great Lakes region will be removed from the federal endangered species list. But this isn’t wolves’ first flirtation with delisting.

Wolves were first removed from the list in 2003, but because of procedural mishaps, they were re-listed as endangered in 2005. Then removed again in 2007, then put back on in 2008, off in 2009, back on again in 2009.

But finally — for now — wolves will be removed from the list yet again, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is happy.

“Wolves have far exceeded the requirement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for delisting,” said Brian Roell, wildlife biologist with the Marquette Service Center. “It’s a long time coming for these animals.”

The DNR’s relief comes because keeping wolves on the list, says Roell, erodes public support of the wolf.

“People have become really polarized over wolves. They either love ’em or hate ’em,” he said. “It has eroded public support of wolves … Folks on the fence about wolves have turned to the other side — they’re anti-wolf. They’ve known a friend or had a friend who has lost livestock or a dog, or their deer-hunting is not up to standard.”

When wolves come off the endangered species list this Friday, they will be listed as a non-game protected species. Michigan residents will not be allowed to hunt or trap animals, but two laws will go into effect that will allow livestock and pet owners to take a wolf in the act of preying upon a livestock or pet — those laws will go into effect Jan. 28.

One couple who comes down staunchly on the side of keeping wolves an endangered species are Len McDougall and Cheanne Chellis of Paradise.

“As far as removal from the Endangered Species List, name one other species that wouldn’t be considered endangered with such a dismally small population,” said McDougall. “As for the danger to humans, it does not and has never existed.”

McDougall and his wife work as for-profit wilderness guides in the Upper Peninsula, and have owned wolves for more than 10 years. Their wolves were bred in Oklahoma, and live in a 10,000 square foot enclosure near McDougall and Chellis’ home.

How the wolves came to be delisted is a numbers game, as with all endangered species, said Christie Deloria-Sheffield, fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Upper Peninsula Sub-Office in Marquette.

To be removed from the state endangered list, the population had to be above 200 wolves for five consecutive years. That minimum threshold was attained in 2000, and according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s federal rule that delisted wolves, there are 687 wolves in Michigan, concentrated in the Upper Peninsula, and 1,469 wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin combined.

That amounts to an average 12 percent increase in wolf population each year, according to the DNR’s wolf management plan.

Delisting wolves put wolf management back into the Michigan DNR’s hands.

“We want to minimize the negative impact of wolves,” said Roell. “Where the (population) number shakes out really doesn’t matter because if we had 2,000 wolves and weren’t having depredation and nuisance wolves and those wolves knocking over garbage cans, nobody’s going to care about how many wolves we have out there.”