SAVING WOLVES IN THE GREAT LAKES REGION
Once one of the most widely distributed land mammals in North America, the gray wolf has also been one of the most persecuted. State, local and private bounties and a federal extermination program have nearly eliminated the gray wolf from the lower 48. By the 1970s, Great Lakes wolves survived only in northeastern Minnesota and Lake Superior’s Isle Royale National Park. With federal protection, wolves have grown in numbers and dispersed from Minnesota into northern Wisconsin and, from there, into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the spring of 2010, for the first time in decades, wolves raised pups in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan.
Such progress clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, but wolf recovery is far from complete. The latest science shows that wolves in the Great Lakes suffer from hybridization with coyotes, disease, illegal shootings and vehicle kills.
Despite the gray wolf's continuing endangerment in Great Lakes states, in December 2011 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stripped them of Endangered Species Act protections. The Center and allies have successfully sued to derail the Service’s past efforts to prematurely reduce and remove federal protections from gray wolves, including overturning three such rules in the Great Lakes — and we're doing everything we can to defend them now. In September 2012, we and Howling for Wolves sued the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for its failure to provide a formal opportunity for public comment on recently approved rules establishing wolf hunting and trapping. We sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the opening of hunting and trapping seasons that fall, but the injunction was denied.
To spur true recovery for all gray wolves, in 2010 the Center filed a scientific petition and notice of intent to sue to compel the Obama administration to develop a national recovery plan that would establish wolf populations in suitable habitat in the Pacific Northwest, California, southern Rockies, New England and Colorado Plateau. Unfortunately, in 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service went the opposite direction, in March 2012 recommending removing federal protections from gray wolves that remain on the endangered species list after wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and upper Midwest had their protections stripped the year before (though the Service conceded it would still consider protection for subspecies or breeding populations, including Mexican gray wolves, and for populations in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast).
Though Great Lakes gray wolves were indeed stripped of protection in 2011, safeguards were reinstated in December 2014 thanks to litigation by the Humane Society of the United States and allies.