In a court filing, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that they will be pushing back the decision on removing the gray wolf from its protected status. The move to delist the species was revealed late last month when the LA Times obtained a document from the USFWS that suggests wolf management could be handed over to individual states. At the time it was expected that the final decision could come as early as the end of May, but according to Associated Press, government attorneys appeared in court on Monday stating that “a recent unexpected delay” will be holding up the action indefinitely. For now, no other explanation was given.
Transferring control of the gray wolf over to states is a hotly contested debate between hunters, wildlife officials, animal rights activists, and conservationists on both sides of the fence. Currently, the gray wolf is under the protections granted to an endangered species except in a handful of states. The species is the largest in the canine family and prey predominantly on ungulates like elk, deer, and sometimes cattle. This led to conflicts with humans and by the start of the twentieth century, wolves were essentially extinct in North America. Due to the efforts of conservationists, some 6,000 wolves now live in the lower 48 states, with about 7,000 to 11,000 residing in Alaska. Although they only inhabit a small portion of their former ranges, many consider the wolf to have significantly recovered.
Now state wildlife agencies welcome more authority in conducting their own management plans, which will seek to control the wolf population and limit conflicts with humans as much as possible. Opponents of the delisting feel that the wolves are still vulnerable and it is too soon to remove the animal from its protections.
However, after several states were granted the power to manage their own affairs, it seemed that the USFWS had decided to return the reins to local wildlife departments. When news surfaced that the department planned to make a decision on the fate of the wolves, the debate flared up once again. The draft proposal was considered under review and the agency had planned on seeking public comment before a final decision was made. Now it appears that invested parties will have to return to waiting.
Recently Michigan became the latest state to introduce a wolf hunting season, aimed at managing the roughly 650 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. Residents of the area have long called for a managed hunt as attacks on cattle have increased over the years.
“There’s a wolf problem in the area–I think everybody understands that,” Ironwood city manager Scott Erickson told USA Today. “I’ve never heard anybody say they want to eliminate wolves, but just manage them in an appropriate manner.”
State wildlife officials have set the season to take place in November and December of this year.
Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service