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Lawsuit seeks national wolf recovery plan

The Center for Biological Diversity says not enough is being done to get more wolves in more places.

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The Center for Biological Diversity on Tuesday filed notice it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to develop a national wolf recovery plan.
Contributed / doublejwebers / Flickr
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A national environmental group on Tuesday gave official notice to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it will be suing the agency over the lack of any national wolf recovery plan.

The Center for Biological Diversity gave the required 60-days notice before a lawsuit is filed under the Endangered Species Act.

The group says the federal government has not looked at recovering enough wolves in enough places to consider them near being recovered, as also required by the act.

Instead, the group claims the agency has been developing regional, disconnected plans to recover populations only where wolves already exist, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, upper Michigan and parts of the mountain west.

“The Service’s piecemeal approach isn’t enough to protect and restore wolves,” Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “By not completing a national recovery plan, which it’s legally required to do, the agency has failed wolves and the millions of people who want these amazing animals to thrive across the country.”

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The center filed a petition in 2010 requesting that the Fish and Wildlife Service prepare a national recovery plan. In 2019, the government denied that petition. The current suit will challenge that denial and the agency’s failure to prepare a national recovery plan. The planned lawsuit would also challenge the agency's failure to complete the required five-year status review of the species in a timely manner. The last review was completed more than a decade ago.

“We’ve seen time and time again that when the Endangered Species Act is implemented properly it really works,” said Ressler. “We’re asking the Service to comply with the law and allow the Act to truly work for wolves.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Interior Department, which includes the Fish and Wildlife Service, did not immediately return a request to comment on the development.

File: Wolves
There are more than 2,700 wolves in Minnesota.
Contributed / International Wolf Center

Some scientists estimate that as many as 2 million gray wolves once roamed the contiguous U.S. before European settlers arrived, But bounties and other efforts to trap, shoot and poison wolves reduced their numbers to fewer than 1,000, all of them in Northeastern Minnesota, by the 1960s.

Wolf numbers have rebounded since first gaining federal protection in the 1970s, with more than 2,700 in Minnesota, 1,500 in Wisconsin and more than 500 in the Upper Peninsula as well as growing populations near Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Oregon and even into California and Colorado.

Still, fewer than 8,000 wolves are located in the U.S. outside of Alaska and wolves are absent from more than 90% of their original range across the continental U.S.

In 2020, the Trump administration moved to end all federal wolf protection. A federal court vacated this rule and restored species protection in the lower 48 states. These protections do not extend to the Rocky Mountain population, which are not protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other wolf supporters just last week filed another suit to restore federal wolf protection in the Rocky Mountains. Meanwhile groups representing farmers, ranchers and hunters say more wolves need to be culled to reduce their impact on livestock and wildlife populations.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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