Bald eagles and gray wolves have made such a dramatic comeback in Michigan that the state’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) is proposing the two species be removed from the state’s Endangered Species List.
They would join nine other species under consideration for removal from the list. Federal authorities have not considered either wolves or eagles to be endangered in Michigan since 2007.
In the early 1960s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counted only 417 eagles nationwide, and about one-fourth of them nested in Michigan. Those numbers have soared, with current counts being 17,000 eagles in the nation and more than 1,000 in Michigan alone.
The state’s gray wolf population has rebounded similarly, growing from zero in 1988 to an estimated 510 today.
MDNR has held four public hearings to remove the two species from its list of endangered and threatened ones. The agency is now concluding its public comment period, said Lori Sargent, a wildlife biologist with the agency.
“Cautious optimism” is perhaps the best way to describe the reaction of some environmental groups to the state’s move.
“We’re supportive of the decision,” said Hugh McDiarmid, communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council. “But we’re also very wary of contentions that the population is sustainable, especially with all the threats in our state brought on by global warming.”
The state DNR’s former endangered species coordinator, Todd Hogrefe, said any rule change would ultimately depend on the legislature. He told the Detroit News, for a June 11 story, that he hoped the delisting would be completed this summer.
Michigan’s removal of the bald eagle and gray wolf from the list will be the most significant change in species protection the state has seen in years. Since 1976, Michigan’s endangered and threatened species listing has been modified only six times–a fact Hogrefe attributed to the tremendous amount of time and effort it takes DNR staff to decide which animals to include and which to leave out.
The delisting would not open the door for hunters to kill wolves, the state’s DNR notes. Killing would be permitted only if a wolf posed a direct threat to humans.
“People would be able to use lethal means if necessary to protect themselves and their livestock from wolves without a permit from the state,” Sargent said. “The Michigan Wolf Management Plan … states that the wolf will still have protected status. It may be listed as a game animal at some point.”
Bald eagles are strictly protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which makes it a crime to kill, own, or harass a bald eagle.
Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.