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Feds make new attempt at delisting Midwest wolves

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The federal government is ready to try again to take wolves off the endangered species list in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing a proposal in the Federal Register today calling for public comment on its plan to delist wolves and hand their management back to state and tribal wildlife officials.

Today’s proposal is a response to four petitions that demanded the federal agency take action to end federal protections for wolves in the region.

“We find that the petitions present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that removing the gray wolf in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from the list may be warranted,’’ the response notes.

The federal response is not surprising because the government has tried three times to delist wolves, only to be thwarted by legal action.

“It was kind of any easy call since we’ve already published proposals to delist,’’ Laura Ragan, endangered species listing coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the News Tribune.

Ragan said a new wrinkle has entered the debate — new research showing increasing evidence that the region may be dealing with two distinct species of wolf: Eastern and gray. It’s not clear whether scientists and the government will ultimately declare each species separate for biological and legal distinction, a debate that could further delay changes in how wolves are managed.

The two species, or subspecies, are genetically different but geographically mixed and difficult to distinguish.

The service now will accept public comments to decide whether delisting is warranted and, if so, will develop a formal proposal to end the federal protection. That proposal may face a court challenge by wolf supporters.

The Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of natural resources also filed separate petitions seeking the removal of endangered species protections for the western Great Lakes wolves in March and April. Earlier this month, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and five other groups gave notice that they would sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if the federal agency doesn’t move quickly to remove Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species list.

The Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the Dairyland Committee of Safari Club International Chapters of Wisconsin, National Wild Turkey Federation of Wisconsin, Whitetails of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Firearms Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators joined in signing the petition.

Meanwhile, pro-wolf groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, have called for the federal government to continue protections here until wolves have been restored across far more areas of their original range.

There are about 3,200 wolves in Minnesota and about 700 each in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They currently are off limits to trapping, hunting or harassment, except in Minnesota, where federal trappers are allowed to kill wolves near where livestock or pets have been killed.

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