With contributions from Carol Stiffler
An order from a federal court in California returned gray wolves, including those in Michigan, to the federal list of endangered species on Thursday, February 10. The ruling means that two state laws governing the ability to kill wolves preying on livestock, pets and hunting dogs have been immediately suspended.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in the Northern District of California vacated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service order from Nov. 3, 2020, which removed gray wolves from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the lower 48 states, beginning Jan. 4, 2021. That original U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruling did not include wolves in the northern Rockies, nor the Mexican wolf subspecies.
The change took effect immediately on Thursday
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Public Information Officer Ed Golder said work to update the 2015 Michigan Wolf Management Plan will continue, and was expected to be completed this year.
The now-suspended state laws are Public Act 318 of 2008, which allows hunting dog owners to remove, capture or use lethal means to destroy a wolf in the act of preying on the owner’s dog, and Public Act 290 of 2008, which offers the same provisions to livestock owners.
It’s a blow to local outdoorsmen like retired attorney Jim Hoy of Newberry. Hoy has been part of a group that has been actively seeking the ability to manage the U.P.’s wolf population, which they believe is likely significantly higher than the state’s minimum count of 700.
“It’s frustrating,” said Hoy, who asserts he does not want to eliminate wolves from the U.P., but to reduce their numbers in order to protect the white-tailed deer population and the hunting revenue the U.P. sees each year.
“I feel for those little towns that rely on deer hunters,” Hoy said.
Gary Gorniak, president of the Straits Area Sportsman’s Club and vice president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance, is now working with U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman to generate legislation that would remove the gray wolf from the endangered list in Michigan, as it has been in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. Idaho’s average wolf population was 1,500 in 2021, and Montana’s average was 1,100 that year. Wyoming reported having at least 327 wolves in 2021.
Gorniak, Hoy, and advocates for legal wolf management in Michigan will persist with their efforts.
“The new plan is basically to delist the wolf through congress like they did out west,” he said. “They are not affected by the relisting of the wolf by this federal judge in California. We’re going to follow the same path.”
Gorniak wishes the federal judge had been located in the Midwest, somewhere closer to the U.P. and more aware of the current wolf and deer populations up here.
An appeal to the Thursday ruling would have to come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Gorniak is not expecting it to occur.
As of now, it is once again illegal to kill a wolf, except in defense of human life. Livestock owners will continue to be compensated for wolf depredation losses. Hunting of wolves while they are on the endangered species list is not permitted.
The DNR had supported the federal rule to delist wolves because the state’s wolf population has long surpassed federal and state goals for recovery.
The restoration of wolf protections comes as many wolf-hunt proponents have been advocating for a hunt across the Upper Peninsula. Decisions to implement and regulate hunts of state game animals reside with the Michigan Natural Resources Commission.
The DNR had said that before a wolf hunt should be considered, several things should take place, including updating the Michigan Wolf Management Plan, consulting with Native American tribes and that the legal status of wolves should be more permanently settled given a long history of legal challenges to delisting decisions resulting in a frequently shifting status of wolves.
The DNR had begun work to update the wolf management plan in 2021 and had met with tribal governments as the federal court challenges continued. The next Wolf Management Advisory Council meeting will be held February 23 in Gaylord.
The court’s order resolved cross motions for summary judgment in three related cases.
Plaintiffs included Defenders of Wildlife, WildEarth Guardians and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., while the defendants included the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Fish and Wildlife Service. Intervenor defendants included the state of Utah, National Rifle Association of America and Safari Club International.