DNR files petition to have Minnesota gray wolf status reflect Minnesota reality

(Mar 17, 2010) - The Minnesota gray wolf should be removed immediately from the federal government’s endangered and threatened species list and returned to state management, according to a petition filed today by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The DNR filed the petition with the Washington, D.C., office of the U.S. Department of the Interior and asked the government to make its decision within the next 90 days. The petition is a procedural step between state and federal natural resource conservation agencies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has tried to delist the wolf in Minnesota and the western Great Lakes region from federal protection on two occasions. Both times the decision was overturned due to legal challenges related to procedural issues.

“We filed the petition because it is time to have the federal classification match the Minnesota reality,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten. “Federal officials agree that the Minnesota gray wolf population is not threatened or endangered. They agree our wolf management plan ensures the long-term survival of the wolf. They have seen it in action during 2007 and 2008, when the wolves in the Great Lakes Region were delisted.”

The Endangered Species Act allows states to petition the federal government to delist a species. Holsten said the DNR is using this process on behalf of Minnesota citizens who should not have to wait for national wolf conservation issues to be resolved when our state’s population is clearly recovered.

“Today, with a fully recovered Minnesota gray wolf population, we are asking the federal government to delist the animal to ensure that scarce resources for federally endangered and threatened species can be directed to those species that truly need protection,” he added.

In its petition, the DNR asks that the FWS delist the species based on a 1978 federal classification that stated the Minnesota gray wolf was a separate species from other wolf populations in the lower 48 states.

The Minnesota gray wolf has recolonized portions of Wisconsin and Michigan, resulting in a regional population of about 4,000. The species achieved recovery in Minnesota as early as 1989, and is estimated at approximately 3,000. That is about twice what is required by the federal Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan.

The fully recovered populations in Wisconsin and Michigan satisfy the federal government’s secondary criteria that at least one viable wolf population exists outside of Minnesota.

Human-wolf conflicts

A large part of modern wolf management is addressing human-wolf conflicts, according to the DNR. Since 1978, federal officials have trapped and euthanized more than 3,000 Minnesota wolves in response to depredation of domestic animals. Most of these incidents have involved cattle in the forested regions of central and northern Minnesota, and the problem seems to be growing.

Gene Hugoson, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said he supports the DNR’s petition because wolf depredation is a major problem for livestock producers in northern Minnesota.

“Since 1998, we have received more than 1,000 claims from producers who lost livestock to wolves, and Minnesota taxpayers have spent nearly a million dollars to compensate them for those losses,” said Hugoson. “We believe it is time for the state to have greater flexibility to manage this issue in a way that reflects reality in northern Minnesota.”

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