Scientists Say Great Lakes Wolves Not At Risk

Published December 22, 2015

Twenty-six wildlife management professionals and scientists signed a joint letter to the Department of the Interior, urging it remove the great lakes gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from the Endangered Species list. According to the November 18 letter, the scientists say the species is no longer endangered in the region and does not require further protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Many of the experts previously argued for protecting the wolves in the past, making the letter especially significant.

“The undersigned strongly believe that it is in the best interests of gray wolf conservation and for the integrity of the ESA for wolves to be delisted in the western Great Lakes states where biological recovery has occurred and where adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place to manage the species,” the letter stated. “We believe that failure to delist wolves in these states is counterproductive to wolf conservation there and elsewhere where suitable habitat may exist.” 

Among the scientists signing the letter includes former US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologists, university professors, experts on endangered species, wolf researchers, and state wildlife managers. 

Delisting the great lakes wolf population from the ESA list has been a highly controversial issue. Gray wolves have been removed from the list and put back on no less than three times, most recently when a federal judge, over the objections of FWS and state wildlife agencies, restored federal protection for the wolves in 2014. 

Absent Delisting, Wolves, ESA at Risk

The letter, addressed to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and USFWS director Dan Ashe, points out, “In 1974 when wolves were originally protected south of Canada, only about 750 wolves occurred in northeastern Minnesota. Today, wolves are found throughout northern portions of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin with a midwinter (2014) count of [more than] 3,700.” The scientists further explained there are few remaining areas in the region and surrounding states where the wolves could survive on natural prey, meaning if wolves populations expand further, then residents may expect depredation on livestock and pets, which ultimately hurt wolf recovery efforts elsewhere, and make more enemies of the Endangered Species act.

“We believe it is highly unlikely that these states will allow their wolf populations to decline to the point where wolves are again threatened or endangered,” the letter stated. “All 3 states have set minimum population goals that are much higher than the levels established for delisting in recovery plans and the USFWS has established post-delisting monitoring criteria for the states to follow.” 

Wildlife managers and lawmakers in the Great Lakes states are currently working to remove wolves from the list entirely.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.


L. David Mech, Adrian P. Wydeven, et al., “Great Lakes Wolf Delisting Letter,” November 18, 2015;