Michigan’s ability to manage its own wildlife populations has become more difficult following a Washington, D.C., appeals court decision, according to Michigan Farm Bureau. The court upheld a district court ruling in 2014 that maintained the gray wolf’s listing on the Endangered Species Act list.
MFB says it short-circuits Michigan’s control over a growing wolf population that preys on livestock in certain areas of the Upper Peninsula and effectively stops any further efforts to conduct a controlled hunt.
With an estimated population of 4,000, the Western Great Lakes District Population Segment (DPS) of the gray wolf was delisted from the Endangered Species List in 2011 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but has faced ongoing court challenges ever since.
The court decision also temporarily derails Farm Bureau-supported legislation calling for the gray wolf to be delisted, according to MFB’s national lobbyist, John Kran. He says the statewide organization submitted written comments in July to the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, which had a hearing on House Resolution 424, the Gray Wolf State Management Act.
“Farm Bureau supports the legislation, which would direct the secretary of the interior to reissue the final rule that was published on Dec. 28, 2011,” Kran says. “It would delist the Western Great Lakes District Population Segment of gray wolf, without regard to any other provision or statute or regulation that applies to the issuance of such rule and not subject to judicial review.”
Under the legislative solution, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would retain authority to list gray wolves for federal protection if population numbers warrant relisting. Michigan Reps. Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, Fred Upton and Tim Walberg have all signed on as co-sponsors.
While animal rights groups applauded the court decision, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall says the court ignored science.
“The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a thriving population of 4,000 gray wolves that threaten farmers in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin was somehow endangered," Duvall says. "This ruling defies common sense.”
“The court handed down this opinion despite an abundance of scientific and commercial data showing no material threat to the wolf population,” Duvall says. “Congress needs to take action to reform the broken and outdated Endangered Species Act. There’s no question the wolf packs have recovered. We only wish we could say the same of farms within their reach.”
With the court ruling comes concern over states’ ability to manage other wildlife species that have recovered from threats to their existence, says MFB attorney Tyler Ernst, adding that the only other possible solution would be to change the Endangered Species Act.
“My concern is the reasoning the district court used,” Ernst says. “It would be nearly impossible to delist the gray wolf in the Great Lakes, despite its recovery, because of the use of the term ‘historical range.’ If the wolf has to recover its population in all of its huge historical range back to antiquity, that would include places like Chicago, and I don’t see wolves recovering much there.”
The ruling also shows just how far removed animal activists and judges are to the realities in rural parts of the United States, adds Ernie Birchmeier, MFB livestock and dairy specialist.
“It refuses to take into account a balanced approach to wildlife populations with concerns of landowners and farmers,” he says. “Our farmers and DNR have documented cases of wolves killing livestock. I know that people like to see wolves, but my guess is they would feel differently if they had to live with them in their backyards.”