Great Lakes Wolf Management in Judge’s Hands

Over the last six months, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation (USSAF) has been hard at work defending against a lawsuit brought on by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) seeking to return the recovered wolf population in the Great Lakes states to the Endangered Species List (ESA).  Just last week, USSAF submitted its last brief in the case and is now awaiting the judge’s decision.

Over the past 10 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has on three occasions (2007, 2009, and 2011) issued “delisting rules” regarding wolves. These actions clearly indicate that wolf populations have recovered in the Great Lakes States to the point where they should be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species, and management control returned to the state’s wildlife agencies.

In 2010, USSAF and our partners filed a petition with the FWS to encourage the delisting. As a result of the petition, the FWS moved forward with the 2011 delisting rule, giving hunters the ability to defend their dogs from wolves while hunting, and the state agencies the authority to establish wolf hunts as part of their management plans. Since then, both Minnesota and Wisconsin have held regulated, successful wolf hunts. However, as was the case with the 2007 and 2009 rules, anti-hunting organizations challenged the delisting in court.

In November 2013 and in February 2014, USSAF and our litigation partners filed briefs with the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. defending the 2011 delisting rule against the HSUS lawsuit.  The briefing to the court is now complete and we are awaiting a decision.

Because there is no dispute that the wolf populations in the Great Lake states have met and exceeded all recovery goals, HSUS has advanced baseless legal theories that, if accepted, would make it extremely difficult to ever take any species off the lists of endangered or threatened species. HSUS is not arguing that wolves in the Great Lakes are scarce. Instead, it is primarily arguing that wolves in the Great Lakes must remain on the list of endangered species unless and until wolves become common everywhere else in the country.

This case may well determine whether FWS has the authority to delist recovered populations of a species, and return that recovered population to state management, while continuing to manage populations of the same species in different locales under the ESA.

“Wolves have literally blown past recovery goals and in some cases the population is more than double the recovery target,” said Nick Pinizzotto, USSAF president and CEO. “But to those in the anti-hunting community, wolves would not be ‘recovered’ until they inhabit Central Park or the Mall in Washington D.C. Not only is that a ridiculous standard, it’s not how the Endangered Species Act is written.”

Litigation partners in the effort include the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, and Safari Club International. USSAF has taken an active role in every phase of the last seven years of Great Lakes Wolf delisting efforts.