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Great Lakes gray wolf
Journal Sentinal , December 26, 2011

Government's Decision on Wolves Is Premature
By Collette Adkins Giese

We're lucky, here in the Great Lakes region, to have wolves in our woods. These top predators play a vital role in regulating deer and other prey species, keeping disease in check and driving essential evolutionary processes.

Protection under the Endangered Species Act has been tremendously successful in putting wolves on the road to recovery. The Minnesota wolf population that survived the bounties and extermination programs has grown in numbers and dispersed into north-central Wisconsin and, from there, into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And last year, for the first time in decades, wolves raised pups in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Despite this success, wolves continue to need protections under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision last week to once again lift the act's protections before full wolf recovery is achieved is premature.

In fact, wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan continue to face significant threats. Of primary concern is human persecution. State wildlife agencies have made it clear that, with federal protection for wolves eliminated, they will drastically reduce wolf populations. The Wisconsin plan seeks to reduce the state population by half to reach a target goal of 350 wolves. And Minnesota's plan resurrects a version of the old bounty system by paying predator controllers $150 for each wolf killed. Making matters worse, state agencies are expected to move quickly to open wolf sport hunting and trapping seasons.

The recovery of the gray wolf on a larger scale is also far from complete. Wolves occupy a paltry 5% of their historic range in the lower 48 states. There are still vast swaths of viable but unoccupied wolf habitat across the country, including within the Pacific Northwest, the southern Rocky Mountains and the Northeast.

The loudest call to remove federal protections from wolves undoubtedly came from livestock producers, who will kill more wolves now that these protections have been taken away. But there are better solutions than simply shooting wolves. There are plenty of tested, nonlethal options to safeguard livestock from wolves, including guard dogs, flagging and predator-proof fencing. Before removing protections, state and federal agencies should have done more to help people live with wolves and increase tolerance.

None of this is to say having wolves in our midst is easy. They're complicated, mobile and intelligent predators that require land, a prey base and careful management. Yet, over the decades, most of us have learned to live with wolves and appreciate the natural role they play.

This regional and national journey to return wolves - to the extent possible - to their former range is far from over. Pulling the plug now not only shortchanges the commitment we made to restore this majestic animal but also the collective commitment this nation made to itself to protect and enhance the wild places that, in turn, help restore us all.

Collette Adkins Giese of Minneapolis is a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation group that advocates for endangered species and wild places.

Copyright © 2011 Journal Sentinal.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton