[Reprinted from original]
LANSING, MI — Attorneys general in Michigan and Oregon have filed a joint amicus brief in litigation against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which alleges the federal government improperly removed gray wolf endangered species protection.
In a July 23 filing in U.S. District Court in Northern California, the two attorneys general argue that FWS unlawfully removed gray wolves from the endangered species list in January during the final weeks of the Trump administration.
That decision enabled states such as Wisconsin to hold a gray wolf hunting and trapping season in February in which at least 218 wolves were killed in less than three days.
Dana Nessel in Michigan and Ellen Rosenblum in Oregon say the federal decision did not properly account for a lack of recovery across wolves’ historic range and, instead, cut the species into segmented populations in order to remove protections.
That argument has long been at the crux of debate over gray wolf delisting, often as a counterpoint to supporters who argue that individual state or regional population rebounds show that federal protection is no longer warranted.
Wildlife advocates have fought fiercely against delisting, arguing that federal protection is needed to keep states from allowing hunts. After Wisconsin fast-tracked a hunt, Montana and Idaho passed laws to expand hunting.
Nessel and Rosenblum filed their brief in an ongoing case against the wildlife service, the U.S. Interior Department brought by Defenders of Wildlife, Wildearth Guardians and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Nessel accused the federal government of “weaponizing” successful state-led efforts to rehabilitate the gray wolf population in the Great Lakes region. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the population has remained stable at about 700 wolves for several years.
In 2019, Nessel previously argued against delisting.
“By delisting the gray wolf nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its obligation to protect endangered gray wolves wherever they are found. Turning cooperative federalism on its head, the service weaponized our effective wolf recovery in the Great Lakes region against wolf populations struggling to recover in other states,” said Nessel. “The facts are clear here: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can only use Michigan’s successes in Michigan, not nationwide. Where wolves remain endangered, they must remain listed.”
Wolves officially came off the endangered list for the lower 48 states on Jan. 4, but the decision was quickly put under review by the Biden administration.
Wolves were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has expanded to about 4,400 animals across Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin since wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
In Michigan, Republican lawmakers have pushed the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resouces Commission to fast-track a hunting season for wolves, arguing that packs in the U.P. need population control.
Hunting advocates say the animals are lowering the numbers of deer in the U.P., an assertion disputed by state biologists and wildlife experts.
The state held its first, and thus far, only, hunt in 2013 during a window of time when the species was previously delisted. DNR has said wants the federal endangerment status to be more settled before organizing another hunt. The department says no decision should come before the state’s wolf management plan is updated next year.
State Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, has advanced legislation that would limit members of the state’s Wolf Management Advisory Council to only U.P. residents. His bill cleared the Senate in June and awaits consideration in the state House.
Presently, state law allows the use of lethal force against wolves to prevent them from killing dogs or livestock. While federally listed, wolves could only be legally killed in defense of human life in Michigan. There has never been a documented attack on a human in Michigan.