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Midwest Wolves Recover: How To Get Wolf Recovery Right

Andrew Wetzler

Posted December 22, 2011 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, U.S. Law and Policy

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wolf pup (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Yesterday was a good day for wolves and for national wolf conservation policy.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was removing gray wolf populations in the upper Midwest from the federal list of endangered and threatened species.  Even better, it also announced that it would abandon a proposed taxonomic reclassification of wolves that would have resulted in the end of protections for any wolves in the eastern United States.

On both counts the agency got it right.  As I've discussed before, wolves are clearly recovered in the Midwest: we have here what wolf advocates have always said we've wanted elsewhere (yes, I'm talking to you Rocky Mountains)--a connected wolf population of 4,000 individuals stretching across a diverse landscape.  And, while the states that will now manage these populations (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) could strengthen their wolf plans in some regards, overall their plans are responsible blueprints for wolf management.

This delisting also enjoys a remarkable consensus: the states, conservation groups (NRDC, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Federation), sportsmen and hunting groups, and agriculture groups, all support the delisting.

Even better, it was accomplished without the need for Congressional meddling.  Indeed, Congress just rejected an attempt to legislatively shield this delisting from judicial review, a move that is now pretty clearly unnecessary.  It's not that court challenge is impossible, but with the facts I've outlined above, its odds of success are pretty slim.

And finally, best of all, the delisting preserves protection for wolves in states like New York and Maine, which enjoy a lot of potential wolf habitat.  Science tells us that wolves are a crucial part of overall ecological health.  I would love to restore the great northern forests of the East by seeing their return.  It's now up to the Fish and Wildlife Service to map out a vision for wolf recovery there.

Oh, and one last thing.  I hope Oregon and Washington are watching.  Wolf recovery doesn't have to go through the acrimonious process we've seen in the Northern Rockies.  There is a better way. 

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