Scientists Urge Removal of Great Lakes Wolves from Endangered Species List

Published January 15, 2016

Twenty-six wildlife management professionals and scientists signed a letter sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior urging it remove the Great Lakes gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin from the Endangered Species list.

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 had previously argued for protecting the wolves, 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 are former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists, university professors, wolf researchers, and state wildlife managers.

Continuing Controversy

Removing the Great Lakes wolf population from the endangered species list has been controversial. Gray wolves have been removed from the list and put back on it three times, most recently when a federal judge, over the objections of FWS and state wildlife agencies, restored the wolves to the endangered species list in in 2014.

“Continued listing and relisting reduces flexible management needed for dealing with problems that a large and growing wolf population can present, especially in the Midwest, where large forested landscapes adjoin intensely agricultural and highly populated urban areas,” said Adrian Wydeven, a retired Wisconsin state wildlife biologist and state wolf manager.

Wydeven, who currently serves as coordinator of the Timber Wolf Alliance at Northland College, is one of the lead authors of the letter.

“Continued listing also frustrates state management efforts and creates resentment toward wolves and the Endangered Species Act,” said Wydeven.

“The Great Lakes’ wolf population has been healthy for decades and should have been delisted more than a decade ago, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approved recovery plan,” said Brian Seasholes, director of the Reason Foundation’s Endangered Species Project. “Continued efforts to retain this wolf population under the Endangered Species Act are politics masquerading as science.” 

Wolves ‘Highly Viable’

The letter, addressed to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and FWS Director Dan Ashe, states, “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 biological population of Great Lakes wolves that can be referred to as a meta-population are highly viable, highly connected, … and no longer are at risk of endangerment within this region,” said Wydeven.

The letter explains there are few remaining areas in the region where the wolves could survive on natural prey, meaning if the wolf populations expand further, residents may experience much greater depredation of livestock and pets, ultimately harming wolf recovery efforts elsewhere and making more enemies of the Endangered Species act.

States Pay

States bear the costs of damage by large wolf populations, Seasholes says.

“Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan have provided compensation for livestock, other farm animals, and pets killed by wolves, and these costs are often tens of thousands of dollars per year, while the federal government and well-funded environmental pressure groups bent on keeping wolves on the endangered species list provide little if any compensation,” Seasholes said.

“When wolf populations recover and their territory expands beyond parks and wilderness, they will surely exceed public tolerance for them,” said John Baden, chairman of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment. “For a variety of reasons, some quite noble and others strategic, some environmental activists will defend even problem wolves. This will gradually weaken support for the ESA.

“From an ecological perspective the most responsible policy is to delist the Great Lakes wolf,” Baden said. 

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


L. David Mech, Adrian P. Wydeven, et al., Letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe asking for removal of gray wolf from Endangered Species List, November 18, 2015: