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Congress: Michigan, Great Lakes wolves could lose federal protection

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Legislation under committee consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday moves to strip great wolves in the western Great Lakes states of protections they enjoy under the Endangered Species Act.

Less than two months after an appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that protection afforded wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin should continue unless there is a further study, the House Federal Lands Subcommittee on Tuesday took up legislation that would reverse that decision.

A second bill -- co-sponsored by several Republican Michigan members of Congress -- would do much the same and is expected to get a vote as well.

The section regarding gray wolves' protection considered by the Federal Lands Subcommittee is part of a much larger bill that would take steps to ensure that public lands remain largely open to hunting and fishing.

During Tuesday's hearing, Democrats voiced deeper concerns about other portions of the legislation, including measures that would make it easier for people to buy firearm silencers and put more of a legal and financial burden on law enforcement when stopping a vehicle suspected of potentially transporting a firearm across state lines.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been attempting for years to de-list the 600 or so gray wolves in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and larger populations from Minnesota and Wisconsin from protection under the Endangered Species Act but have been turned back each time.

In the most recent ruling, the court said Fish and Wildlife could not go through with such a de-listing without studying what such a move would mean to the population across the rest of the U.S. Proponents of hunting wolves argue that the numbers are significantly recovered to allow for de-listing and that wolves increasingly threaten livestock, reduce deer populations and even threaten humans.

In August, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, called such anecdotal evidence "fabricated" and "exaggerated," noting that in cases where wolves are found to kill livestock, farmers can get permission to kill wolves.

"Congress should not subvert the rulings of two federal courts affirming the conclusion that de-listing of wolves in the Great Lakes region is premature," Pacelle said Tuesday, adding that they help reduce auto collisions with deer by reducing the population. "The wolf population in the state is small and not increasing and Michigan voters have rejected trophy hunting of the animals by voting down two statewide ballot measures to allow it.

Michigan rejected wolf hunting in state referendums in 2014.


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