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Feds file intent to appeal on wolf status

Wisconsin, Michigan and the U.S. Department of Interior have filed their intent to appeal a federal judge’s ruling in December that has wolves back on the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region.

Michigan filed its appeal Friday and Wisconsin on Thursday following the federal agency and several hunting groups in seeking to overturn the December opinion that restored federal protection for wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Minnesota has not yet filed an intent to appeal.

The notice of appeal by the federal government, filed Feb. 19, still is tentative, however, with the final decision whether to pursue the case by the U.S. Department of Justice to come at  a later date.

The states, hunting groups and federal agencies say the Fish and Wildlife Service made the right decision in 2012 when it removed federal protections for wolves and handed the animal's management back to individual states and tribes. That ruling allowed the first widespread, legal killing of wolves in more than 40 years.

But a federal judge in December said that the state governments acted too fast in allowing too many wolves to be hunted and trapped since then. The judge also said that the wolves had not fully recovered across a large enough portion of their original range.

The result is that no wolves may be killed by the public in Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin, unless a person's life is threatened. That means no public hunting or trapping for at least the foreseeable future. The exception is in Minnesota where the threatened status allows federal trappers to kill wolves near where livestock are killed or injured.

In January a coalition of 20 groups that support wolf protection suggested the federal government list the animal as threatened across its range, a compromise that would allow “problem” animals to be trapped and killed but that would prevent sport hunting and trapping seasons.

The hunting groups that have filed to remove federal protections are the  Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, Upper Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, Michigan United Conservation Clubs,  National Rifle Association of America, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation,

As the potential appeals process moves forward, several lawmakers in Washington have introduced bills that would reverse the court ruling and order the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protections for wolves in the Great lakes states and Wyoming, where another ruling has restored Endangered status.

A survey last winter showed Minnesota has about 2,423 wolves in 470 packs, mostly across the northern one-third of the state. In Wisconsin, last winter's estimate showed about 670 wolves in the state. Those surveys were before last year's hunting and trapping seasons.

The notice of appeal was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, docket No. 15-5041.

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