Groups sue to keep gray wolf on endangered species list

Gray wolf
A gray wolf.
Image courtesy of the International Wolf Center, Sherry Jokinen photographer

(AP) - Three animal advocacy groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday over its decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says the gray wolf essentially remains endangered in the three states, and it demands that the Fish and Wildlife Service be prevented from implementing its "delisting" plan.

The lawsuit was filed by The Humane Society of the United States, Help Our Wolves Live, and the Animal Protection Institute.

"The agencies' decision to strip wolves of all federal protection is biologically reckless and contrary to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act," Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of litigation for the Humane Society, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

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Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jason Holm in Minneapolis said Tuesday that he hadn't seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

In March, federal officials removed the gray wolves from its endangered list and handed over management of the population to state and tribal governments.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Natural Resources assigned three conservation officers to managing the wolf population and planned to hire a new wolf specialist, said Mike DonCarlos, the department's wildlife research and policy manager.

DonCarlos said he had not heard about the lawsuit Monday.

It is rare to have a plant or animal removed from the endangered species list. Before the gray wolf, also known as the timber wolf, only 16 species had recovered enough to be removed from the list.

By the early 1900s, a combination of habitat loss, dwindling prey and bounty hunting reduced the population of wolves in the Lower 48 states to a few hundred in far northern Minnesota and a handful on Isle Royale in Lake Superior.

The wolf was classified as an endangered species in 1974, when Minnesota's population dipped as low as 350.

Minnesota now has 3,020 wolves, mostly in the northern part of the state, living in about 485 packs. Nearly 1,000 more live in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)