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Feds reopen comment period for Great Lakes wolves

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced it will take more public comments on the plan to remove endangered species protections for wolves across the Great Lakes region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced it will take more public comments on the plan to remove endangered species protections for wolves across the Great Lakes region.

Public comments on the federal plan ended July 5 but have been reopened through Sept. 26.

The federal agency in May officially filed its intent to remove federal protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan because the animals have more than recovered from the brink of extinction over the past 35 years.

Federal officials said at the time that they hoped to announce the new rule and delist wolves in the region by the end of 2011. Georgia Parham, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the reopened comment period "shouldn't change that goal. We still hope to have it completed within that time frame."

Once that rule becomes final, management of wolves will revert back to state agencies that are ready to allow wolf trapping and shooting.

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Subspecies issues

The Fish and Wildlife Service in May also proposed recognizing two subspecies of wolves in the eastern U.S. -- both the gray wolf, Canus lupus, and the eastern wolf, Canus lycaon. Several scientists now believe both subspecies inhabit Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, indistinguishable from each other, and that both are doing well here. Canus lycaon has never formally been listed as endangered, and its status will be part of the final rule later this year.

It's that change in taxonomy that government regulators are most interested in for additional comments. Several new research papers published in recent weeks will be allowed into the official record on which the agency bases its decision to delist.

"We also want all the information we are using to make these decisions to be available to anyone interested in the issue," Parham said. "So all of the new research we have should be posted on our website very soon."

Several livestock farm organizations and hunting groups, as well as state natural resource managers in Minnesota and Wisconsin and lawmakers in the three Great Lakes states, have been pressing the federal government to end endangered status and hand management of wolves back to the states. The move would allow additional wolf control measures, including trapping and shooting wolves, and could lead to public hunting and trapping seasons.

Wolf supporters say it's too soon to end federal protections because their numbers could quickly dwindle under political pressure within the states to kill more wolves. They also say wolves should be allowed to recover in nearby states east of the Mississippi River before they are considered fully recovered.

Third delisting try

It's the third time in the past decade that the federal government has moved to delist wolves in the region. The first two efforts were reversed after challenges in court.

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There are about 3,200 wolves in Minnesota, nearly 800 in Wisconsin and about 600 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There also are about 1,700 wolves across the northern Rockies.

Until delisting occurs, wolves remain off-limits to trapping, hunting or harassment, except in Minnesota, where federal trappers kill about 180 wolves each year near where livestock or pets have been attacked.

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