ready to come off the endangered species list
From a podium in the upper Midwest and with an audience that included
a pack of timber wolves, Interior Secretary Gale Norton made an announcement that a
generation ago would have been unthinkable.
"The time has come to take the gray wolf off the Endangered Species list,"
Norton said. "The recovery of the wolf populations in the Great Lakes area has
been one of the most notable success stories of the Endangered Species Act."
Norton made her remarks July 16 at the Wildlife Research Center about 30 miles north of
Minneapolis. The non-profit research facility is home to 41 timber, or gray, wolves. Once
delisted, the wolf will still be protected, but wildlife officials will have the ability
to manage the number of wolves in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
As an example, wolves that cause depredation to livestock may be killed by federal and
The wolf was
on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states when it was placed on the Endangered
Species List 30 years ago. With the additional protections afforded by federal listing and
the benefit of state programs to closely monitor their numbers, the animal has rebounded
from an estimated low of 350 wolves (all in Minnesota) to about 4,000 in the upper
Midwest, including Wisconsin.
Wolves have been listed on the Federal Endangered Species list since 1974 and the
Wisconsin Endangered Species list since 1975.
"The wolf was like a patient in the intensive care ward," Norton said.
"Today the comeback is a tremendous achievement for all who have been involved in
The Wisconsin wolf population was estimated at 373 to 410 wolves in late winter 2004. Both
the number of wolves and the number of wolf packs has been steadily increasing for the
With federal officials beginning the process to remove the gray wolf from the federal
endangered species list in Wisconsin, state officials are seeking public input on any
possible revisions or adjustments to the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan.
"We welcome the action by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start the federal
delisting process for wolves in the Eastern Distinct Population Segment, including
Wisconsin," said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett. "And
we are committed to listening to people and addressing concerns about wolves, especially
farmers, and hunters who have special concerns dealing with wolves. We will continue to
maintain a citizen group of wolf stakeholders, and will provide opportunities for all
citizens interested in wolves to have their voices heard concerning wolf management."
Once federal delisting is completed, the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan will determine how
wolves will be managed in the state, according to Adrian Wydeven, DNR mammalian ecologist
and wolf specialist.
The state Natural Resources Board approved removing the gray wolf from the state list of
threatened species in March; wolves are currently listed in Wisconsin as protected wild
However, while the wolf is listed as a threatened species under federal rules, federal
permits are required to euthanize any wolves that prey on livestock. Once the wolf is
removed from the federal list, wolves still will be protected under state law as a
protected species, but state officials will be able to deal with problem wolves.
The Natural Resources Board originally approved the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan in
1999. The plan set a state goal of delisting wolves when the statewide population reached
The plan included a provision that it would be reviewed with the public at least every
five years. That process is beginning now (see inset).
Since federal reclassification to threatened status in 2003, the DNR and USDA-Wildlife
Services has begun to euthanize wolves that depredate on domestic animals on private
lands. In 2003, 17 wolves were trapped and euthanized, and so far in 2004, 15 wolves have
been trapped and 12 have been euthanized. Three wolves captured in 2004 were pups that are
required to be released back to the wild if captured prior to Aug. 1.
The wolf recovery in Wisconsin has been remarkable on several fronts. First, the animals
have come back from the brink of extinction. They were considered extirpated, or extinct,
from a certain geographical area, from Wisconsin by 1960, mostly because of fur trapping,
bounty hunting and loss of habitat. Before European settlement, an estimated 3,000 to
5,000 wolves lived throughout Wisconsin.
The recovery also has occurred naturally, with animals drifting over the state line from
Minnesota. This contrasts to the recent wolf introduction in Yellowstone National Park,
where stocking was needed.
But perhaps most important in the recovery, said Wydeven, has been a shift in public
perception toward wolves.
"The attitude of the public has been a big part of the turnaround," Wydeven
said. "It's essential that people develop a respect and a tolerance for wolves, and
that's happened to a significant extent."
Although a growing population of wolves in the state will undoubtedly lead to more cases
of depredation, the DNR says it has plans in place to manage the situation. Monetary
compensation is paid to farmers who lose livestock and hunters who lose dogs to wolves.
"Reclassification is something we've waited for for a long time," said DNR
Secretary Scott Hassett. "For some time now, Wisconsin has a had a wolf management
plan ready for this day."
"Having this icon of the wilderness back in Wisconsin and once again a part of our
native landscape is a great success story. Almost no experience I can think of stirs the
imagination quite as much as the howl of a wolf on a cold night."