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Crying wolf—no joke this time, really

Michigan State Roundup

September 1, 2009


Crying wolf—no joke this time, really
Michigan State Roundup | fedgazette September 2009 | Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

The rebound of the gray wolf is one of the big environmental success stories in the Upper Midwest. Just don’t tell that to ranchers, hunters and others who have suffered from their growing numbers.

Gray wolves, also referred to as timber wolves, are the largest wild members of the dog family. Because of bounties, it’s believed there were only a handful of wolves left in the U.P. by the 1960s. But thanks to federal protection starting in 1974, that population has since rebounded to an estimated 580 across the U.P.’s 15 counties. Wisconsin is believed to have more than 600, based on estimates by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Now environmental groups are fighting the U.S. government over delisting wolves from federal protection. In fact, this might simply be called round three of an environmental cage match for control over wolf populations. Back in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the timber wolf off the endangered species list in the western Great Lakes region, which includes the Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Minnesota. That put wolf management under state control, and states allowed farmers and others to shoot or trap wolves if they threatened livestock.

But that ruling was overturned a year ago by a federal judge, returning wolves to their federally protected status, which reinstated a no-kill policy except in the case of an attack on humans. Then in May, U.S. Fish and Wildlife again delisted the wolf, but a court-ordered settlement followed in June after a coalition of wolf advocate groups sued in federal court, arguing that the delisting took place without proper notice or public comment.

A 2007 research paper by a Michigan environmental consultant pointed out that despite the protective push from environmentalists, popular support in the U.P. for the wolf population has decreased as wolf numbers have increased—at least as measured by attendance and crowd sentiment at public hearings over time. Maybe ironically, support for wolf recovery has increased among residents of lower Michigan, where wolves have not repopulated.

If current population trajectories continue, it’s estimated that wolf numbers may rise to approximately 1,700 animals in the U.P and Wisconsin by 2012.