Wolf Status Reclassified

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on March 18, 2003 that the federal government will reclassify gray wolves in Wisconsin, as well as Michigan and the Dakotas in the Upper Midwest from endangered to threatened species. Wolves are already listed as threatened species in Minnesota.

"Reclassification is something we’ve waited for a long time," said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett. "For some time now, Wisconsin has a had a wolf management plan ready for this day. Reclassification by the federal government will give us an important tool to continue guiding the successful recovery of wolves. Having this icon of the wilderness back in Wisconsin and once again a part of our native landscape is a great success story. Almost no experience I can think of stirs the imagination quite as much as the howl of a wolf on a cold night."

The new classification will allow state wildlife agencies, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to kill wolves that have been verified to be preying on pets or livestock. In Wisconsin, this will give the Wisconsin DNR and USDA-Wildlife Services more flexibility in controlling problem wolves, says Adrian Wydeven, DNR mammalian ecologist and wolf specialist.

While the reclassification will relax some of the federal protection of wolves, it will not allow for a public harvest, or for landowners to shoot problem wolves, Wydeven says. Lethal control of wolves will only be done by governmental agents, and after depredation on domestic animals has been verified. Maximum federal fines for illegal killing wolves will decline from $100,000 to $25,000.

The goal for federal and state reclassification for Wisconsin wolves to threatened species status was a population of 80 or more wolves in the state for at least 3 years. The population has been above 80 since 1995, and the state reclassified wolves to threatened in 1999. Federal reclassification of wolves was more complicated because the reclassification was tied to goals and plans for all states where wolves were listed as endangered.

The federal reclassification indicates that wolf populations are doing well in the Great Lakes region. The population in late winter 2002 was 323 in Wisconsin and 278 in Michigan. Wolves were considered extinct in Wisconsin from 1960 through about 1974, but returned on their own without need for a reintroduction. A reintroduction was attempted in Michigan in the early 1970s, but all reintroduced wolves died within less than a year. In the late 1980s natural recovery of wolves occurred in Michigan as wolves from Wisconsin and Minnesota moved into the state. The reclassification represents success in wolf recovery for the Great Lakes region.

"Federal reclassification to threatened status marks a major milestone in the recovery of wolves in our region," Wydeven says. "We are pleased with this progress, and look foreword to the opportunity to completely delist wolves from the federal endangered and threatened species list. The ultimate success of this recovery effort will be realized when all management is returned to the Wisconsin DNR and other states and tribes that will manage and maintain healthy populations of wolves."

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to start the process soon to totally delist wolves in Wisconsin. The delisting goal for Wisconsin and Michigan is 100 or more wolves for five or more years. Minnesota with over 2,600 wolves currently, has a federal delisting goal of 1,251 to 1,400 wolves. Thus Michigan and Wisconsin are at levels six times the delisting goal, and Minnesota is about two times the goal.