The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has affirmed a lower court ruling that vacated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
According to the Humane Society, the decision maintains federal protections for wolves and blocks the states from asserting control and opening up sport hunting and commercial trapping seasons targeting the animals.
The agency’s decision, which was overturned by the D.C. District Court in 2014, threatened the fragile remnants of the gray wolf population by confining current wolf populations to small pockets of their former range.
State officials in the Great Lakes region have expressed their intention to engage in reckless killing programs that would threaten wolves with the very same practices that pushed them to the brink of extinction in the first place.
“A federal appeals court has recognized that the basis for the delisting decision was flawed,” Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at HSUS stated. “Congress should respect the ruling relating to the management of wolves in the Great Lakes and allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to re-examine the broader conservation questions raised by the courts.”
In its ruling, the court chided the USFWS for taking a piecemeal approach to wolf recovery and “calling it quits” too early. The court noted that “…when a species is already listed, the service cannot review a single segment with blinders on, ignoring the continuing imperilment status of the species’ remnant.”
Following federal delisting, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan rushed to institute trophy hunting and commercial trapping programs for wolves, exposing them to non-selective killing for the first time in more than 40 years. The states authorized some of the most abusive and unsporting practices, including hound hunting, snares, baiting, electronic calls, and the use of leg hold traps, producing a body count of about 1,500 wolves over two hunting seasons.
The Michigan legislature also passed three separate laws to designate wolves as a game species, in its zeal to allow the state to authorize a trophy hunting and trapping season for wolves and to undermine a fair election by Michigan voters on wolf hunting.
However, in response to a referendum campaign launched by The HSUS and other animal welfare and conservation groups and Native American tribes, voters in Michigan soundly rejected sport hunting of wolves in a 2014 election in two separate referendums.
The States of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and trophy hunting groups participated in the rulemaking process and also in the extensive litigation in the courts, but they are now seeking assistance from Congress to legislatively remove wolves from the endangered species list.
Wildlife conservation decisions should not be left to the whims of politicians, and the federal courts are quite clear on what’s required of the agency in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
The court’s ruling requires that the USFWS re-engage stakeholders in a regulatory process that gives full effect to the purposes of the Endangered Species Act and addresses wolf recovery in a robust and depoliticized process.
People are encouraged to support animal welfare organizations such as those noted above in their continued efforts to protect endangered species, such as gray wolves, and save them from extinction.
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