This week a number of animal advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of the Interior to restore federal protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region, which were removed last year.
The lawsuit, which was brought by the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live, Friends of Animals, argues that the decision to delist wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan before they are completely recovered will not only threaten current populations of wolves, but will prevent their dispersal to currently uninhabited parts of their historic range, reports the AP.
“In the short time since federal protections have been removed, trophy hunters and trappers have killed hundreds of Great Lakes wolves under hostile state management programs that encourage dramatic reductions in wolf populations,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “This decision rolls back the only line of defense for wolf populations, and paves the way for the same state-sponsored eradication policies that pushed this species to the brink of extinction in the first place.”
More than 1,000 wolves have been slaughtered this year in the Northern Rockies since they were stripped of their protection under the Endangered Species Act. Hunters and trappers killed 413 in Minnesota and 117 in Wisconsin in less than four months. Minnesota had promised a five year moratorium on wolf hunting if they were delisted, but that plan was quickly trashed by legislators.
“Wolf populations are just at the threshold of rebounding in many areas across the Great Lakes Region,” said Linda Hatfield, executive director of Help Our Wolves Live. “The recent delisting has taken the wolf back to the old days, days before the ESA, the days of state-sponsored bounty payments to hunters and trappers that were intended to eliminate wolves from the landscape.”
In December, Michigan designated wolves as a game species after 50 years of protection and handed management over to the state’s Natural Resources Commission, which could mean wolf hunting and trapping in the state this fall. Wolf advocates are currently collecting signatures to stop the hunt and bring the issue to voters.
“The Endangered Species Act is popularly considered one of the most powerful conservation laws on the books, but it is rendered impotent if species are not allowed to recover fully across the breadth of their range before delisting,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. “Simply put, the gray wolf still requires protection under the Act.”
The FWS has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit. Meanwhile, its considering a proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protection for all wolves in the Lower 48, with the possible exception of the Mexican gray wolf – a move that has many worried it will completely derail recovery efforts across the country.
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