The federal government again plans to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes from the Endangered Species List.
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan could take over wolf management in late January. And the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources already is laying plans for a hunting season on wolves.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new plan for managing wolves is based on the ability of the Minnesota's native wolf population to survive long enough to win federal protection in the 1970s, despite human's best attempts to eradicate them.
In fact, Minnesota's wolf population is so healthy it has helped wolf numbers rebound in Wisconsin, Michigan, and adjacent parts of other states.
Minnesota's wolf management plan was approved back in 2001. When the federal decision is published — as soon as next month — states will take over management. Minnesota's plan is to make it easier for livestock and pet owners to kill problem wolves.
"If a livestock producer has wolves that are threatening the livestock, the landowners can kill wolves whereas they could not do so under federal rules," said Ed Bogges, director of Fish and Wildlife at the DNR.
In the northern part of the state, the wolf must pose an immediate threat. In the southern part, immediate threat is not required, but farmers can only kill wolves on their own land.
The DNR is already considering a hunting and trapping season on wolves. Originally the state plan called for a five-year wait after delisting before a season could be considered. But the legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton removed that waiting period in negotiations that ended the state government shutdown in July.
Wolf expert Dave Mech said hunting would not affect the overall wolf population.
"Wolves and every other species die of natural causes all the time, and it doesn't seem to have any big consequence on population survival," Mech said.
The DNR is discussing internally how to organize hunting and trapping seasons, which could begin as early as fall 2012. Eventually the agency will present a hunting plan to the legislature and the public.
This is the federal government's third attempt to remove federal protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region. The big question now is whether this move will also face lawsuits. Two earlier attempts to change the status of wolves were rebuffed by the courts.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar pushed the Interior Department to remove the wolf from the endangered species list. She said this kind of administrative action is preferable to Congressional action. Last spring, Congress bypassed the Interior Department procedures and forced the delisting of wolves in the Rocky Mountains.
"It's the right way to do it. Hopefully we won't face litigation because we handled it the right way. And if we do, then we'll have to look at Plan B, which is doing it legislatively," Klobuchar said.
If that sounds like a threat, Klobuchar says it is. She says wolves have clearly recovered enough to be taken off the list.
Howard Goldman, Minnesota state director for the Humane Society of the United States, does not agree.
"There are nonlethal ways that USDA Wildlife Services has researched to discourage wolves from attacking, and USDA takes wolves that are depredating on livestock — 192 wolves last year — and we think the combination works well to address issues that surface regarding farmers and wolves," Goldman said. "We don't see need for the delisting or the basis, or the basis for a sport season on wolves which we're afraid would follow the delisting.
Other environmental groups are taking a wait-and-see position. The Natural Resources Defense Council said the ruling addressed earlier concerns, and supports the decision. The Center for Biological Diversity will watch what happens, perhaps for several years, before deciding whether to challenge the delisting.