Responding to a lawsuit filed by the nation’s largest animal rights/anti-hunting organization, a federal court judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return gray wolves in the Great Lakes Region to the endangered species list, effectively ending all hunting and lethal control methods.
The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell in Washington, D.C., also removed state game agency oversight of the species, effective immediately, returnings that authority to the federal agency.
“The D.C. Circuit has noted that, at times, a court ‘must lean forward from the bench to let an agency know, in no uncertain terms, that enough is enough,’” Judge Howell wrote in her 111-page decision. “This case is one of those times.”
The federal court order came in response to a lawsuit filed in by the anti-hunting organization, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups, challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove wolves in the Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment from the federal endangered species list in January 2012. The ruling affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
As a result of the ruling, state laws permitting livestock or dog owners to kill wolves in the act of depredation were suspended. Additionally, lethal control permits previously issued by state game agencies to livestock farmers to address ongoing conflicts with wolves are no longer valid.
Under endangered species status, wolves may be killed only in the immediate defense of human life. The return to federal endangered species status also means state wildlife and law enforcement officials no longer have the authority to use lethal control methods to manage wolf conflict.
Wolves now revert to the federal protection status they had prior to being removed from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region in January 2012. That means wolves now are federally classified as threatened in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, and endangered elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.
“The federal court decision is surprising and disappointing,” said Russ Mason, Michigan DNR Wildlife Division Chief. “Wolves in Michigan have exceeded recovery goals for 15 years and have no business being on the endangered species list, which is designed to help fragile populations recover—not to halt the use of effective wildlife management techniques.”
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a group that doesn’t often side with hunters and sportsmen, was also critical of the ruling.“If you care about protecting Great Lakes wolves, you should be disappointed by this decision, which vacates years of hard work by the states and federal government in recovering Great Lakes wolves and conservation efforts within the region,” Andy Buchsbaum, NWF vice president for conservation advocacy, said in a statement.
Some organizations and federal legislators from the region are calling for Interior Secretary Sally Jewel to appeal the court ruling. However, in the interim, the court-ordered hunting and lethal management prohibition stands.