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Gray Wolves of the Western Great Lakes Back in Court
WASHINGTON, DC, June 15, 2009 (ENS) - Five wildlife protection groups today filed legal action challenging the removal of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region.

The nonprofit organizations the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, Help Our Wolves Live, Friends of Animals and Their Environment, and Born Free USA have asked the federal District Court here to issue an immediate injunction to stop the killing of wolves pending resolution of the case.

In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed an initiative begun by the Bush administration to remove federal protections for this population of gray wolves.

Instead, state management and hunting will be allowed, and Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan plan to allow hundreds of wolves to be killed.

This is the second time in little more than a year that the federal government has removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region. Courts have repeatedly over the last several years.

"After overturning the Fish and Wildlife Service's efforts to strip wolves of all federal protection six times in the last four years, it's shocking that we have to go back to court once again to enforce the requirements of the Endangered Species Act," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation with the Humane Society of the United States.

A gray wolf in Minnesota (Photo by Jerry H.)

"It's long past time for a sober policy review of this issue by the new administration," he said.

The only gray wolf population in the lower 48 states east of the Rocky Mountains inhabits Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, this population holds about 80 percent of North American gray wolves that occur south of Canada.

The coalition of wildlife protection groups is represented pro bono by the law firm Faegre & Benson. In their complaint, the groups argue that the Fish and Wildlife Service "has tried to sidestep the Act by using a legal tool designed to increase species protection - the "distinct population segment" or DPS - for delisting purposes.

The groups argue that the agency has "simultaneously created and delisted" the "western Great Lakes distinct population segment even though this population was not previously listed under the ESA.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has once again removed protection for wolves before they have fully recovered," said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Wolves are absent from roughly 95 percent of their historic range, and with removal of protection, there is almost no chance they will gain lost ground."

"Once again, it is premature to delist the wolf. The Great Lakes states must produce sound ecological management plans, based upon preservation of biodiversity, environmental ethics, and responsible stewardship towards this national treasure, the wolf," said Linda Hatfield, executive director of Help Our Wolves Live. "To date, there has not been sound biological/empirical support for delisting, and human-caused mortality remains a major threat to wolves."

Now that the gray wolf has been removed from federal protection, the conservation groups warn that wolves will be subjected to widespread killings at the hands of hostile state wildlife agencies and trophy hunters. Management plans from the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan allow a nearly 50-percent reduction in the region's wolf population.

"We are challenging this rule because the Fish and Wildlife Service has not completed its mission to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf," stated Bob Waligora, issues coordinator for Friends of Animals and Their Environment. "The agency is acting in opposition to the interests of the vast majority of citizens that wolves be protected until they can thrive."

"If the Fish and Wildlife Service succeeds in its plans to remove federal protections from the gray wolf, there is little chance that this top predator an iconic symbol of all that is wild and free will be restored to its former range," said Nicole Paquette, senior vice president and general counsel of Born Free USA.

The coalition has been successful in previous attempts to keep hunters and wolves apart. In September 2008, the same court where the present complaint was filed struck down a Bush administration attempt to delist gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region.

Also in 2008, another federal court granted an injunction preventing the Fish and Wildlife Service from delisting the northern Rocky Mountains distinct population segment. This ruling states that the text of the Endangered Species Act "quite strongly suggests - consistent with common usage - that the listing of any species (such as the Great Lakes DPS) is a precondition to the delisting of that species."

In response to that ruling, the Service reinstated federal protections for the gray wolves of the western Great Lakes region.

But in December 2008, the Office of the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior released an opinion defending the Service's simultaneous designation and delisting of a Distinct Population Segment. Soon after the Service again announced its intention to again remove the Western Great Lakes population of gray wolves from the Endangered Species List.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.



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