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Following the Trail of Wolf Legislation

wolfThe state of wolves in America varies by state. Certainly, Michigan has been at the center of the fray with not one, but two ballot initiatives for voters to weigh in on this past November.

Wolves have been a hotly debated animal for a while. They are sometimes despised by ranchers for their destruction of herds while they are admired and tolerated by many urbanites and environmentalists, for whom the wolves represent natural beauty and species diversity.

Gray wolves in Michigan had been categorized since 1973 as endangered by the United States Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA prohibited the hunting and trapping of wolves. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) “delisted” the gray wolves in 2012, after determining that the wolf population had sufficiently recovered and was no longer in danger of extinction.

The delisting of the wolves gave the onus of the wolves’ protection and oversight to the wildlife departments of  Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, where the gray wolves live. This set in motion the Michigan November ballot initiatives.These initiatives would have cleared the way for regulated wolf hunts in Michigan, a response to legislative action that placed the oversight of wolf management in the hands of both the Legislature and an appointed National Resources Commission. The ballots all failed, although they received far more support in the Upper Peninsula, the home of the gray wolves. The result of the ballot failures was a reversion to leaving the wolf management oversight in the hands of the states’ wildlife management authorities.

On a related note, on December 19, 2014, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell overturned the FWS delisting, calling the decision “arbitrary and capricious”. The population of the gray wolves during the delisted time appears to have dropped from a high of 4,400 to 3,748 because of hunting and trapping. Howell criticized the FWS’ determination that the wolves were no longer in danger.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest, the gray wolves have also been in the news. California has not been the home of a gray wolf in 90 years, but a gray wolf, nicknamed “Journey” by federal and state wildlife officials, briefly entered California before returning to his native Oregon.

Oregon currently has eight packs of wolves for a total of 64 adult wolves. The Oregon wolves are protected by the aforementioned ESA. However, these wolves are not without controversy. Several ranchers have tried to prevail upon the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the packs, especially the most destructive members of the pack. Oregon Fish and Wildlife did kill two wolves, but has been hampered from further management, as they are awaiting a legal decision from the appeals court.

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