Scientists urge restoration of federal gray wolf protections

TRAVERSE CITY – A group of scientists called on the Biden government Thursday to restore legal protection to gray wolves. They said their removal earlier this year was premature and the states allowed too many animals to be killed.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves from endangered species lists in most of the lower 48 states in January. The decision was one of more than 100 environmental-related actions taken by the Trump administration that President Joe Biden reviewed after taking office.

The move had no impact on Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, where federal protection had been lifted years earlier and hunting is allowed. But it removed them elsewhere in the lower 48 states, including the Western Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest, which have wolf populations, and others where experts say the predators could migrate if protected from human harassment.

The decision was premature because the species has not fully recovered, argued 115 scientists in a letter to Home Secretary Deb Haaland and Martha Williams, assistant chief executive officer of the Fish and Wildlife Service. A high number of state-approved murders has since caused setbacks, the letter said.

“We were shocked by the way states were willing to wage an all-out war against wolves,” said John Vucetich, professor of conservation at Michigan Technological University.

Fish and wildlife service spokeswoman Vanessa Kauffman said the agency had no information about wolves. The agency has continued to defend its removal from the list of people at risk against lawsuits from environmental groups.

In the 1930s, wolves were wiped out in most of the United States as part of government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. A remaining population in the western Great Lakes region has since expanded to around 4,400 animals in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

More than 2,000 occupy six states in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest after wolves were reintroduced from Canada to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park 25 years ago.

Wisconsin had a judicial hunt in February in response to a lawsuit from a pro-hunting group. Participants killed 216 wolves – nearly a fifth of the state’s population, well above the state quota of 119. Another hunt is planned for this fall.

Brad Little, Governor of Idaho, signed a measure last week that could result in 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves being killed using methods such as the use of night vision goggles, snowmobiling and ATV tracking, and helicopter shooting. In Montana, proposed legislation would allow the use of bait, night vision devices, and slings.

The states “have clearly stated that they will manage wolves according to the lowest standards allowed,” the scientists said in their letter.

This file photo dated May 20, 2019 shows a Mexican gray wolf in Eurkea, Mo. When the rarest subspecies of the gray wolf was critically endangered in North America, its population has nearly doubled in the past five years.  U.S. wildlife managers said the latest poll shows there are at least 186 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona on Friday, March 12, 2021.  (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson, File)

“The recent politicization of wolf management in states like Idaho and Montana is jeopardizing the long-term recovery of wolves by reducing the likelihood of such spreads,” said Jeremy Bruskotter, professor of wildlife policy at Ohio State University.

The Fish and Wildlife Service claims it is not necessary for wolves to be in every place they once lived in order to be considered safe.

Ranchers and ranchers claim the wolf numbers are too high and threaten their livelihoods.

Attorneys representing the government and groups suing to restore federal protection agreed this month on a schedule that will see a resolution to the matter ahead of the hunts that could take place in the fall.

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