LANSING, MI — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Friday announced that it is appealing a recent federal ruling that returned the state’s grey wolves to the endangered species list.
The ruling, issued by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in December, reinstated federal protections for wolves in Michigan and other Great Lakes states that had been removed in 2012, effectively blocking local control efforts.
“Returning wolf management to wildlife professionals in the state of Michigan is critical to retaining a recovered, healthy, and socially-accepted wolf population in our state,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh said in a statement.
“Michigan residents who live with wolves deserve to have a full range of tools available to sustainably manage that population.”
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to slightly more than 600 wolves, up from just six in the 1970s. The DNR has advocated for stronger management and backed the state’s first ever wolf hunt in 2013 as a means to reduce conflicts with livestock and comfort levels around humans.
Michigan’s grey wolf population has been the subject of intense debate in recent years, with the state’s Republican-led Legislature approving two separate hunting laws that were rejected by voters. But a third wolf hunt law, initiated by a petition drive and approved by lawmakers, cannot be overturned via referendum.
Animal rights groups, energized by the December ruling that reinstated federal protections, argue that hunting seasons in Michigan and other Great Lakes states have jeopardized the wolf recovery.
Jill Fritz, state director of the Humane Society of the United States and the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected coalition, said she was not surprised by the DNR’s appeal but “baffled” by the logic.
“I’m curious how having a wolf hunt — and that’s exactly what they want to do — would help retain a quote ‘recovered, healthy, and socially-accepted wolf population,'” she said. “I cannot make any sense of any part of that sentence.”
HSUS and allies have asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “downlist” Great Lakes wolves, reclassifying them as a threatened species rather than an endangered one, which would give the state flexibility to kill or remove nuisance wolves.
Livestock attacks have been an issue for some farmers in the U.P. As MLive previously reported, there were 35 wolf attacks on livestock or dogs in Michigan last year, up from 20 in 2013 but lower than the 41 in 2012.
DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason, in a statement, called Michigan’s wolf recovery a “great success story” but said the endangered status “leaves farmers and others with no immediate recourse when their animals are being attacked and killed.”