Louise Knott Ahern
Two months after a federal judge dropped a bombshell ruling that placed Great Lakes gray wolves back on the endangered species list, hunting proponents and natural resource officials are lining up options to overturn the decision.
Three members of Michigan’s congressional delegation have joined several others in co-sponsoring a resolution calling on federal wildlife officials to intervene.
House Resolution 884, co-sponsored by Michigan Republican Reps. Dan Benishek, Tim Walberg and Bill Huizenga, along with 12 other members of the House, would direct the Secretary of the Interior to re-issue an order from 2012 that removed wolves from the endangered species list. A second bill would prohibit federal protections altogether.
That comes on the heels of a similar non-binding resolution passed in the Michigan Senate last week.
At the same time, officials with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources are in talks with Attorney General Bill Schuette about whether to appeal the December ruling by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.
“We’re in favor of anything that returns management authority of wolves to natural resources professionals in Michigan,” said Ed Golder, spokesman for the Michigan DNR. “We believe that Michigan biologists are best suited to manage a population that is not in any way in danger.”
Gray wolves were on the federal endangered species list until 2012, when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the population had recovered enough to no longer require federal protection and could be managed by the states.
In 1973, when wolves were named an endangered species, there were only six left in Michigan. There are roughly 600 today.
However, Howell ruled on Dec. 19 the decision to remove them from endangered status was “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered them back onto the list.
The ruling sided with the the Humane Society of the United States in a lawsuit arguing Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin had proven themselves unable to responsibly manage wolves because all three states held public hunting seasons after the animals were removed from federal protection.
Benishek, who represents the Upper Peninsula, said he co-sponsored the congressional resolution because he trusts the opinions of the biologists in U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the DNR who believe wolves can be managed at the state level and that a well-organized hunt will not jeopardize the long-term wolf population.
“If U.S. Fish and Wildlife thinks we’re doing a good job, what’s the problem?” Benishek said. “There are people who will never want a species removed from the endangered species list. If it has recovered and is no longer endangered, shouldn’t it be removed from the list?”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, called the congressional and state-level resolutions an attempt to make an end-run around the courts.
“That 111-page decision very tightly argued that the states, mainly Wisconsin and Minnesota, went on something of a killing spree, and that was not responsible state management,” Pacelle said.
The Humane Society of the United States and several other groups — including the Detroit Zoo — have petitioned U.S. Fish and Wildlife to consider a compromise. The groups suggest wolves be given “threatened” status instead of “endangered.”
That would prohibit sport hunting but give states greater control in dealing with problem wolves, such as those that kill livestock.
On Wednesday, the Humane Society also sent a letter signed by 50 wildlife biologists — including Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park wolf researchers Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich — asking Congress not to strip federal protections from wolves.
“The best available science indicates that the gray wolf occupies a mere fraction of its historic range and therefore has not yet recovered from centuries of systematic persecution,” the letter states. “For this reason, and in recognition of the ecological benefits wolves bring, millions of tourism dollars to local economies, and abundant knowledge from scientific study, we ask Congress to act to conserve the species for future generations.”
Golder said the DNR is open to ideas, but maintains that states must be given more control.
“Right now, the situation in Michigan is, if you are a farmer and one of your cows or sheep is being killed by a wolf, or you’re a hunter out in the woods and one of your dogs is being killed by a wolf, the law says there is nothing you can do,” Golder said. “That is an untenable situation. That is what we need to see fixed.”
Minnesota and Wisconsin — which have larger wolf populations than Michigan — have held three wolf hunts each since 2012. Michigan held one in 2013 in three areas of the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan voters rejected further wolf hunts on two ballot initiatives last November, but the votes were rendered moot by separate legislative action that would have granted the state’s Natural Resources Commission the authority to name any animal a game species.
A second Michigan hunt was likely in 2015 until the judge’s ruling was issued, prohibiting all future wolf hunting.