Great Lakes Wolf Recovery is Conservation Success Story

Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager

Highlights

  • Gray Wolves were delisted as an endangered species in 2021 after meeting and exceeding recovery goals established under the Endangered Species Act.
  • The Great Lakes states have exceeded target gray wolf population goals for the past 25 years.
  • Wisconsin hosted its first successful wolf hunt in the region in February. Hunts in Michigan and Minnesota are uncertain.

Why it Matters: The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created to help species at risk of extinction and whose future is uncertain in the United States. Species on the list are provided with protections and funding for conservation efforts to ensure their recovery. Since its inception, only 34 species have been delisted (as of 2016) due to recovery. In recent years, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempts to delist species like grizzly bears and gray wolves, are often litigated by environmental groups and many delisting decisions have been reversed despite species reaching recovery goals. If a species has met its scientific population goal, it should be delisted, and management authority returned to state fish and wildlife agencies who have a long history of successfully managing fish and wildlife populations. There are many species on the list that need our attention, and we should not be directing scarce resources to species that, according to science, have recovered.  

Due to a federal delisting rule issues by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, gray wolves are no longer listed as an endangered species as of 2021, which has generated a lot of discussion in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Between 2003-2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has attempted to delist gray wolves in the Great Lakes Region four times, each resulting in courts blocking the action.

According to The Revised Recovery Plan of 1992, population goals for Minnesota were set between 1,251 – 1,400 wolves spread across 40% of the state. Michigan and Wisconsin had population goals of 100 individuals each; all three states have exceeded their goal since 1996. For the past 25 years, these states have maintained a healthy, sustainable, and growing populations of wolves, yet state fish and wildlife agencies have not been allowed to manage them without federal oversight.

State politics and litigation have also interfered with scientific management of Great Lakes wolf populations. Wisconsin law states that a wolf season would be established if wolves are delisted, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources proposed a hunt in late 2021. However, the state was sued, and a judge ordered that a hunt was to be held in February. The weeklong hunt was cut short after the 119-wolf quota was exceeded in just three days. Currently, Michigan has a bill asking the state’s Natural Resource Commission to consider a season on wolves as part of their management plan. Minnesota legislators have proposed competing bills that will either establish a season or prohibit a season on wolves.     

According to the best available science, it is past time to return the management of gray wolves to the state agencies responsible for managing most fish and wildlife within their borders and have done so with tremendous success for more than a century. It is also important for the public to know that this system works. The story of the gray wolf in the Great Lakes Region is one of success. It is something that should be celebrated and used as an example for future recovery efforts. It is important that we make conservation decisions based on science, rather than emotion. Our efforts and resources need to be focused on species in need of recovery, not on those that have successfully recovered.    

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