Daniel Conjanu/The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation via AP, File Daniel Conjanu/The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation via AP, File

The comeback of Michigan wolves was used as evidence to remove them from the endangered species list. That decision was just overturned.


Need to Know

  • The Trump administration removed wolves from the endangered species list, in part because of wolves’ successful recovery in Michigan.
  • A court decision has overruled that judgment, putting wolves back on the endangered species list.
  • In Michigan, which had been considering a wolf hunt, wolves can now only be killed to protect human life.

UPPER PENINSULA—Having gone from hunters to hunted, wolves are once again legally protected after months of uncertainty about their standing in Michigan.

Last week, a California judge restored federal protections for gray wolves, washing away fears that they could soon be hunted in the Upper Peninsula as the Michigan DNR reexamines its wolf management plan. The ruling means that gray wolves are back on the endangered species list, effective immediately, and cannot be killed unless to protect human life.

The outgoing Trump administration had removed gray wolves from the list months prior to leaving office, in part claiming that the successful comeback of gray wolves in Great Lakes states was sufficient to delist the creatures. The court’s decision found holes in that logic.

“This success should not be used to undermine wolf recovery efforts elsewhere,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a brief encouraging the court to reverse the decision.

With wolves delisted, states had the option to open up hunting. Wisconsin did, and hunters slayed 218 wolves in short order, almost double the quota that the state had set. The state suspended its season early.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources had been in the process of considering whether to hold a hunt. But first, the department was awaiting the results of this case, Dan Kennedy, the DNR’s environmental species coordinator, told The ‘Gander in a November interview

The state’s new wolf management plan will come out in June, but it will have no bearing on whether or not wolves can be hunted. 

“If it’s put back on the list, all of this is moot, because you can’t hunt a federally listed species,” Kennedy said.

PRIOR: Michigan’s Gray Wolves Have Long Been Protected and Studied. Now They’re at the Center of a Political Battle.

Already, Michigan has negated existing laws that allow dog and livestock owners to kill wolves in the process of attacking their animals. Farmers in the Upper Peninsula have expressed concern that they no longer can protect their herd from wolf attacks and rebuked the decision.

Others in the state have celebrated the decision, including members of Michigan tribes, to whom wolves are sacred and part of the creation story for many.

“Knowing there’s that resurgence feels very important emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually,” said Nichole Biber, a librarian in East Lansing and a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, in a prior interview.

Because of hunting, habitat loss, and predator control programs, wolves in Michigan became very scarce in the 20th century, once numbering only about 40 on Isle Royale. Now, more than 700 wolves roam Michigan—all in the Upper Peninsula, with occasional wolves spotted below the bridge.

Wolves play an important role in managing the numbers of other species, including deer, and they are indigenous apex predators in the region.

BACKYARD NEWS: How the Revival of Michigan’s ‘Birds of Fire’ Shows We Can Save Endangered Species