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February 12, 2013

Wildlife Protection Groups File Suit to Restore Federal Protection for Great Lakes Wolves

A coalition of wildlife protection groups, including The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live and Friends of Animals and Their Environment, filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to remove the protections of the Endangered Species Act from gray wolves living in the western Great Lakes region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s most recent decision to delist wolves became effective last year, after multiple previous attempts to delist wolves were struck down by the courts over the course of the last decade. The decision threatens the fragile remnants of the gray wolf population by confining wolves to a small area in the Great Lakes region – where state wildlife managers have rushed forward with reckless killing programs that threaten wolves with the very same practices that pushed them to the brink of extinction in the first place.

“In the short time since federal protections have been removed, trophy hunters and trappers have killed hundreds of Great Lakes wolves under hostile state management programs that encourage dramatic reductions in wolf populations,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS.  “This decision rolls back the only line of defense for wolf populations, and paves the way for the same state-sponsored eradication policies that pushed this species to the brink of extinction in the first place.”

“The Endangered Species Act is popularly considered one of the most powerful conservation laws on the books, but it is rendered impotent if species are not allowed to recover fully across the breadth of their range before delisting,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. “Simply put, the gray wolf still requires protection under the Act.”

“Wolf populations are just at the threshold of rebounding in many areas across the Great Lakes Region,” said Linda Hatfield, executive director of Help Our Wolves Live. “The recent delisting has taken the wolf back to the old days, days before the ESA, the days of state-sponsored bounty payments to hunters and trappers that were intended to eliminate wolves from the landscape.”

Following federal delisting, Wisconsin and Minnesota rushed to enact emergency regulations to allow the first public hunting and trapping seasons in the Great Lakes region in more than 40 years. The states authorized some of the most abusive and unsporting practices, including hound hunting, snares, baiting, night hunting and the use of steel-jawed leg hold traps. Together, hunters and trappers killed more than 500 wolves in these two states in less than four months.  These losses are in addition to natural limiting factors and a wide range of other human-caused impacts, such as the killing of wolves by damage control agents, poachers, and, inadvertently, by automobile drivers.

The Michigan legislature recently amended state law to designate wolves as a game species, which would allow the state to authorize a trophy hunting and trapping season for wolves. There is a referendum campaign, launched by animal welfare and conservation groups and Native American tribes, in progress to place the measure on the ballot and nullify the action of the legislature.

The plaintiffs are represented in the case by Schiff Hardin, LLP and attorneys within The HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation section. The complaint was filed in the federal district court for the District of Columbia.

Timeline

  • October 2012 - January 2013 – More than 500 wolves killed by hunters and trappers in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • Nov. 3, 2012 – Minnesota’s hunting and trapping season begins. 
  • Oct. 15, 2012 – Wisconsin’s wolf hunting and trapping season begins, marking the first public hunting and trapping season in the Great Lakes region in nearly 40 years. The HSUS and others send notice of their intent to sue the USFWS over its unlawful decision to delist wolves in the Great Lakes region.
  • December 2012 – Michigan enacts legislation declaring the gray wolf a game animal to allow a trophy hunting season.
  • April 2012 - July 2012 – Wisconsin enacts legislation mandating a wolf hunting and trapping season, requiring that the state wildlife agency authorize the use of dogs, night hunting and snare and leg-hold traps. The state wildlife agency adopts regulations for the hunting and trapping of wolves in 2012-2013 via emergency rules.
  • July 2011 - August 2012 – Minnesota enacts legislation allowing a wolf hunting and trapping season once wolves are delisted. The state wildlife agency adopts regulations for the hunting and trapping of wolves in 2012-2013 via emergency rules.
  • December 2011 – The USFWS issues a final rule delisting the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes.
  • September 2010 – The USFWS issues a finding that petitions to delist wolves in the Great Lakes region “may be warranted.”
  • July 2009 – The HSUS enters into a court-approved settlement agreement with the USFWS that reinstated federal protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region.
  • June 2009 – The HSUS files suit in federal court to block the delisting decision.
  • April 2009 – The USFWS issues a final rule delisting the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes.
  • September 2008 – In response to litigation filed by The HSUS and other organizations, a federal court overturned the USFWS’ Great Lakes delisting decision, thereby reinstating federal protections for gray wolves in the region.
  • February 2007 – The USFWS issues a final rule delisting the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes. 
  • 2005 - 2006 – The USFWS tries to strip wolves of protection by issuing blanket permits to the state of Wisconsin that authorize state officials to kill dozens of wolves. These permits are thrown out by a federal court in response to a lawsuit by The HSUS. 
  • January 2005 – A federal court rules that the 2003 downlisting was arbitrary and capricious, returning the wolf to endangered status. 
  • 2003 – The USFWS issues a final rule downgrading most of the gray wolves living in the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened, making it easier for people to lethally take wolves. 
  • 1978 – Gray wolf listed at the species level under the Endangered Species Act as endangered throughout the coterminous United States and Mexico, except in Minnesota, where gray wolves were listed as threatened.
  • 1974 – Various subspecies of wolves listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
  • 1967 – Wolves listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 – the precursor to the Endangered Species Act.

 

Media Contacts:

The Humane Society of the United States: Kaitlin Sanderson, 240-672-8397; ksanderson@humanesociety.org

Born Free USA: Rodi Rosensweig Zimmerman, 203-270-8929, rodicompany@earthlink.net  

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