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Published March 17, 2010, 11:16 AM

Minnesota petitions to take wolves off endangered list

Minnesota petitioned the federal government today to take the gray wolf off the endangered and threatened species list in the state and give it back the responsibility of managing the animals.

By: Steve Karnowski, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota petitioned the federal government today to take the gray wolf off the endangered and threatened species list in the state and give it back the responsibility of managing the animals.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources asked the Department of the Interior to decide on its petition within 90 days.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has tried before to remove federal protections for the gray wolf in Minnesota and the western Great Lakes region. Each time the decision was blocked by court action.

In a statement today, DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said federal officials agree that Minnesota’s wolf population is not threatened or endangered and that the state’s management plan would ensure the species’ long-term survival in the state.

“We filed the petition because it is time to have the federal classification match the Minnesota reality,” Holsten said. He also said Minnesota should not have to wait for a resolution of national wolf conservation issues because its population is “fully recovered” already.

The Fish and Wildlife Service returned the wolf in the western Great Lakes region to the endangered list in September to settle a lawsuit by environmental and animal protection groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. The agency acknowledged it failed to hold a legally required public comment period before it took the animals off the list for the region.

In 2008, a federal judge overturned a 2007 Bush administration decision to remove the region’s wolves from the endangered list, saying it was unclear whether the 1973 Endangered Species Act permitted such a move. The Obama administration made another unsuccessful try, which led to last year’s settlement. Government efforts to take wolves off the list in Montana and Idaho have also been thwarted by legal challenges.

Howard Goldman, the Minnesota state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said his group opposes the state agency’s efforts. He said it’s a national issue, not just a state issue, and that wolf populations across the country have not recovered sufficiently.

“They occupy currently about 5 percent of their historic range and until their numbers are restored to a significant part of their former range the wolf should remain listed,” Goldman said.

The Department of Natural Resources said it’s asking the Fish and Wildlife Agency to act based on a 1978 federal classification that said the Minnesota gray wolf was a separate species from other wolf populations in the lower 48 states.

Gray wolves went on the endangered list in 1974. They had been wiped out across most of the lower 48 states in the early 20th century by hunting and government-sponsored poisoning. They’ve flourished in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan under federal protection, but state and federal officials have said illegal killings of wolves in the region are on the rise as human-wolf conflicts increase.

The DNR said wolves from Minnesota have successfully re-colonized portions of Wisconsin and Michigan, resulting in a regional population of about 4,000, including about 3,000 in Minnesota. That’s about double what’s required by the federal recovery plan.

Using their management authority, federal officials have killed more than 3,000 wolves suspected of preying on domestic animals in Minnesota since 1978, mostly on cattle in forested areas of central and northern Minnesota. The DNR said the problem seems to be growing.

In the DNR’s statement, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said the state has spent nearly $1 million to compensate producers who have filed more than 1,000 claims for losing livestock to wolves.