With federal gray wolf protections restored, two MI laws suspended

Farmers in U.P. no longer able to shoot wolves posing a threat to their livestock

Photo of Angela Mulka
FILE — With federal protections restored, wolves can only be killed if they are a direct and immediate threat to human life. If an animal is killed, the incident must be reported to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

FILE — With federal protections restored, wolves can only be killed if they are a direct and immediate threat to human life. If an animal is killed, the incident must be reported to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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A federal court ruling last week designates the gray wolves as a threatened species once again in the lower 48 states, including Michigan, after the Trump administration removed federal protections from gray wolves in 2020.

Gray wolves are native to Michigan, once present in all 83 counties before nearing eradication in 1960 as a result of persecution, habitat loss and predator control programs. The comeback of the wolf in Michigan is a remarkable wildlife success story, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The most recent survey of gray wolves, conducted between December 2019 and March 2020, by the Michigan DNR counted a minimum of 695 wolves, compared to only 20 wolves in 1992.

Wildlife advocates, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and 1.8 million Americans, fought fiercely against the delisting, arguing that federal protection is needed to keep states from allowing hunts.

For instance, after the gray wolf was removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act, Wisconsin held a wolf hunt, where hunters with dogs killed 218 wolves in three days — exceeding the harvest quota by nearly 100 animals, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

Previously, wolves could only be legally killed in defense of human life in Michigan. Since the delisting of the gray wolf, farmers and ranchers in Michigan's Upper Peninsula were able to shoot wolves that posed a threat to their dogs or livestock, which is something they had argued for, according to Wolf.org.

With federal gray wolf protections restored, two Michigan laws governing the ability to kill wolves preying on livestock, pets and hunting dogs have been suspended, according to the Michigan DNR.

"The changes on wolf protections took effect immediately Thursday with the judge’s signing of the U.S. District Court order," Michigan DNR Public Information Officer Ed Golder said in a news release. "Ongoing work to update the 2015 Michigan Wolf Management Plan will continue, with completion of that process expected later this year."

The now-suspended state laws are Public Act 318 of 2008, which allows hunting dog owners to remove, capture or use lethal means to destroy a wolf in the act of preying on the owner’s dog, and Public Act 290 of 2008, which offers the same provisions to livestock owners.

In light of the reinstated protections, Nessel issued the following statement:

"Michigan is proud to be home to approximately 700 gray wolves," Nessel said in a press release. "These magnificent animals serve important roles in our Great Lakes ecosystems, and they show us that dedication to family is not unique to humans. I refused to stand idly by when the federal government tried to use the Great Lakes wolf recovery success story to remove needed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in other states."

In July 2021, Nessel took part in an amicus brief in the Wolf Delisting litigation fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove gray wolves from the list of endangered species, arguing that the agency made this move contrary to the Endangered Species Act and to the detriment of gray wolf populations in other states, according to the release.

The DNR had supported the federal rule to delist wolves because the state’s wolf population has long surpassed federal and state goals for recovery.

"The restoration of wolf protections comes as many wolf-hunt proponents have been advocating for a hunt across the Upper Peninsula," the Michigan DNR stated in a press release. "Decisions to implement and regulate hunts of state game animals reside with the Michigan Natural Resources Commission."

The DNR also said that before a wolf hunt should be considered, several things should take place, including updating the Michigan Wolf Management Plan, consulting with Native American tribes and that the legal status of wolves should be more permanently settled given a long history of legal challenges to delisting decisions resulting in a frequently shifting status of wolves.

Today there are recovering wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho; wolves have begun to inhabit Washington, Oregon and California; and unclaimed wolf habitat remains in states like Maine, Colorado and Utah, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

To learn more about wolves and wolf management in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/Wolves.