"Plaintiffs, animal protection and conservation organizations, challenge the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to strip gray wolves in the Great Lakes region of protection under the Endangered Species Act," says the opening of the lawsuit document.
The Humane Society filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.'s United States District Court. The plaintiffs also include Born Free, USA; Help Our Wolves Live; and Friends of Animals and Their Environment.
"We're filing the federal lawsuit because we've already seen now several months of state management after wolves have been delisted, and it's been painfully clear that federal protection is sorely needed for wolves," said Jill Fritz, Michigan state director of the Humane Society of the United States. "The fact that, as you've seen, Michigan is rushing toward that same process — a wolf hunt — proves that these states cannot be trusted."
Too, the lawsuit objects to the gray wolf's delisting because it says the Endangered Species Act requires protection for a species that is endangered throughout its historic range. Currently, the gray wolf is present "across just five percent of its historic range," says the lawsuit.
But organizations that support the wolves' delisting and a potential hunt of the wolf say populations are healthy, particularly across the three states named in the lawsuit.
"I think Michigan is in a very good place," said Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. "We have a very well thought-out wolf management plan, and we've been moving forward with enacting it."
At last count, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimated there are roughly 700 wolves across the Upper Peninsula. The department recently moved to survey wolf populations every two years because of budget constraints. The department will conduct a survey in 2013 and should have a more up-to-date count of the wolf population this year.
In order for wolves to be delisted, they had to number 200 in Michigan and Wisconsin for five years, Trotter said. Then, Michigan set an internal goal of 200 wolves in the state before the animal was delisted.
"We've been there for quite a while," Trotter said.
After gray wolves were delisted in Michigan in January 2011, the state had to begin to monitor populations and continue to monitor those numbers for five years, said Georgia Parham, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bloomington, Ind. But that doesn't mean a wolf hunt can't be enacted during that monitoring period.
"We can re-list a species if it looks, during the monitoring period, like there's a need to do that," Parham said. "At the point that they were delisted, it became a state decision whether or not to hunt again. ... As long as states maintain their wolf populations, then how they do it is up to them."
Fritz and the Humane Society think that should be through non-lethal means.
"Enacting an indiscriminate and inhumane trapping and hunting season doesn't do anything to affect the problem of depredation or public safety," she said. "(Michigan) has ignored all that and jumped in headfirst."
DNR officials are in the process of deciding whether a wolf hunt should take place. A group of stakeholders, called the Wolf Management Advisory Council and organized by the DNR, will meet Feb. 19 in St. Ignace to continue to discuss the status of wolves and a potential wolf hunt.
"We're moving in a deliberative fashion with the Natural Resources Commission about whether or not a wolf hunting season should happen, what the shape of that season should be and where we're at in that process," said Ed Golder, DNR spokesman.
Tony Demboski is the president of the Upper Peninsula Sportman's Alliance. He resides in the western Upper Peninsula, in Quinnesec, near Iron Mountain in Dickinson County.
"As the (Upper Peninsula Sportsman's Alliance) and as most people in the Upper Peninsula, we are not for the eradication of the wolf, but we do feel strongly that the DNR needs to control these animals, because there are some areas that have real problems with wolves," Demboski said.
Demboski said he worries about livestock and pets, but also how wolves might interact with humans in the Upper Peninsula. He also worries about how a petition drive to get a referendum on the November ballot to block a wolf hunt might be affected by population centers in the southern part of the Lower Peninsula, he said. The coalition seeking petition signatures is called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, and the Humane Society of the United States is one of the organizations in the coalition.
"There's a need for the people to be aware of how many people are down in Detroit or Saginaw or Bay City. ... They need 225,000 signatures and we don't even have 225,000 people in the Upper Peninsula," he said. "We had eight wolves that needed to be taken out from the city of Ironwood because they were in city limits. On the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula, how many farm animals have been destroyed by the wolf? People down there don't know that."
In a previous interview with the Petoskey News-Review, wildlife biologist and DNR wolf specialist Brian Roell, who is based in Marquette, said there have been 211 recorded depredation events on livestock and pets in the Upper Peninsula since data started being collected in 1992.
Fritz said Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is on pace to reach its goal of 225,000 signatures, which it must collect by March 27.
"I'm just amazed at the resolve of Michiganders to get out there and get those signatures to keep wolves protected in our state," Fritz said.
Neither the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nor the Michigan DNR could comment on the litigation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to file a response to the Humane Society's lawsuit.
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