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2 states appeal ruling that put wolves back on endangered list

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Wisconsin and Michigan are both appealing the December court ruling that put the gray wolf back on the endangered species list, and the federal government may join them.

That December decision returned management of wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan to the federal government, eliminating wolf hunting seasons the states had established.

Michigan's Department of Natural Resources announced its appeal Friday, arguing that management by the state is critical to retaining a "socially accepted wolf population."

The Associated Press says Wisconsin filed its appeal Thursday. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed notice of an appeal earlier in the month, the AP says, but a spokesman for that agency said it will be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to pursue the case.

Endangered or not?

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell wrote in her December ruling that the states' management plans did not provide enough protection for the gray wolf, an animal that at one time nearly disappeared from the lower 48 states. While numbers have bounced back in Great Lakes states, Howell noted that wolves are not close to recovering their historic range.

Critics of Howell's ruling argue that wolf populations have recovered in the Great Lakes states and say the states are now best equipped to manage them. The states say a hunting season should be among the tools used to manage the threat wolves pose to livestock and other domestic animals.

Minnesota wolves threatened

While the December ruling turned wolf management over to the federal government in three Great Lakes states, the feds do not treat those states the same.

In Minnesota – which has more wolves than either Wisconsin or Michigan – the animal is classified as threatened, while it's listed as endangered in the other states.

That change dates all the way back to 1978, the Minnesota DNR says on a page that offers lots of background on the history of wolf management in the state.

What's the distinction between threatened and endangered?

There's a longer answer here, but one important difference is that in Minnesota wildlife managers may kill a wolf that's regularly preying on livestock. In states where it's endangered, killing any wolf is prohibited.

The website MLive reports even groups that support federal protections have asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to "downlist" wolves to threatened throughout the Great Lakes states.

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