Great Lakes wolves returned to endangered list
Wolves are once again an endangered species in Michigan following a surprise ruling by a federal judge late Friday.
For now, that ruling effectively ends the prolonged political chess match over whether wolves should be hunted here.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled in favor of the Humane Society of the United States, which sued in 2013 to overturn the Obama administration's decision in January 2012 to take Great Lakes gray wolves off the endangered species list after four decades of federal protection.
The order affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and places them back under the management control of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That means Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Commission no longer will be allowed to consider a wolf hunting season in 2015.
In his ruling, Howell called the 2012 decision to take wolves off the endangered species list "arbitrary and capricious."
"We are overjoyed," said Jill Fritz, Michigan state director for the Humane Society of the United States. "We're grateful the court recognized that the basis for delisting wolves was flawed. For now, the wolves have won."
Hunting advocates, however, reacted with disappointment and frustration.
"We believe that state resource agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are fully capable of successfully managing and conserving wolves," said Dan Eichinger, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. "When you set aside all the other noise associated with wolves, at the end of the day, it is an irrefutable fact that wolves have fully recovered in Michigan, fully recovered in Wisconsin and fully recovered in Minnesota and don't require the protection of the endangered species act any longer."
Friday's ruling is actually the second time the Humane Society of the United States has successfully sued to get wolves placed back on the endangered species list after they've been removed.
The 2013 lawsuit mirrored a suit filed by the organization in 2007, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed transferring management of Great Lakes gray wolves to the states.
The latest development is one more salvo in the long battle over wolf management in Michigan.
Wolves were given federal protection in 1973, when the known population in the Upper Peninsula had dwindled to just six.
In 2012, when Great Lakes gray wolves were finally removed from the endangered species list, the Michigan wolf population was estimated at between 700 and 1,000.
Minnesota and Wisconsin almost immediately legalized wolf hunting and held their first hunting seasons that year. Michigan passed a law allowing wolf hunting in 2013 and held its first season later that fall.
But hunting opponents, including the Humane Society of the United States, quickly moved to block hunting here and were able to get two proposals placed on last November's ballot.
Both proposals were essentially moot, however, because lawmakers last August passed a bill that could not be overturned by public vote that would allow the Natural Resources Commission to establish a wolf hunting season. It goes into effect in March, but the judge's ruling on Friday now also renders that law effectively null and void.
Fritz said the ruling was a surprise but a welcome victory.
"We filed the lawsuit to relist the Great Lakes population of wolves," she said. "It was based on the assertion that the Great Lakes states had proven they could not responsibly manage wolves."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.