March 16, 2006

Great Lakes gray wolves no longer endangered -US

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Interior Department on Thursday
proposed to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes
region from the federal list of endangered and threatened

Wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in
parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana
and Ohio, would no longer be protected under the Endangered
Species Act.

Instead they would be shielded by state and tribal
programs, Department of Interior Secretary Gale Norton said in
a press conference call.

The final decision will be made in eight to 12 months
following a public comment period.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, an arm of the Interior
Department, estimates some 4,000 gray wolves now live in
Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, up from between 700 and
1,000 when the animal was classified as endangered in 1974.

The agency says the current population represents 80
percent of all the gray wolves in the 48 contiguous states.

"Certainly, in the western Great Lakes the wolves are
back," said John Kostyak, a lawyer for the National Wildlife
Federation who attributed the recovery to cooperation between
government officials and landowners.

"We're seeing a very impressive rebound for the species
that have enjoyed the protection of the ESA," he said.

In 2003 the Bush administration tried to downgrade the
status of the wolf from endangered to threatened in most of the
lower 48 states. But federal courts in Oregon and Vermont
struck down the decision.

The agency said the proposed Great Lakes delisting is
smaller in scope than the 2003 effort, and can be easily
approved. A 90-day public comment period on the proposal begins
next week.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said that by 1960, the gray
wolves were almost entirely eliminated from the three states in
the northern Midwest, having starved from a lack of prey and
been hunted for bounties for nearly 200 years.

"This is a species that over the centuries was basically
extirpated from almost the entire lower 48 (states)," Kostyak

The proposal does not affect gray wolves in the West or in
the Southwest, nor does it concern red wolves, a different
species found in the Southeast.