ASKED & ANSWERED: Daniel Eichinger

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a decision to remove wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the federal endangered species list effective Jan. 27. The decision returns management of wolves to the state level. Few species stir as much passion -- positive and negative -- as the wolf. Michigan DNR expert Daniel Eichinger, Manager of the Policy and Regulations Unit of the Wildlife Division answers some questions about the issue.

Thorpe: The DNR strongly advocated the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species list and the return of management of the species to state control. What arguments did the DNR make?

Eichinger: Our arguments for delisting centered around three main points. First, we had long achieved and exceeded biological recovery goals for wolves in Michigan and throughout the western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment. Second, Michigan has been prepared to assume management of wolves with the adoption of the Michigan Wolf Management Plan, which will guide our post-delisting management actions. Having this plan in place is required by the federal government before delisting can take place. Third, we frequently asserted that locking gray wolves away on the Threatened and Endangered Species list without end would severely erode public acceptance of wolves and undermine esteem for the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This third problem was exacerbated by the inadequate efforts at delisting that occurred from 2007 to the present.

Thorpe: Gray wolf population is now estimated at about 4,000 with about 700 in Michigan. Does the DNR have a target number it would like to see maintained?

Eichinger: There is a minimum population we need to sustain to continue the recovery of the species and prevent relisting and returning management control back to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), but we do not have a maximum desired population. Social acceptance of wolves varies by geography. Our objective will be to manage the human-wolf interface in a way that reduces both real and perceived conflicts between humans and wolves. Where a relatively robust population of wolves in a local area may exist without conflict, relatively few wolves in the wrong area could be very problematic. Our goal is to manage for balance in those situations not arc our efforts toward an arbitrary population size.

Thorpe: The Michigan Legislature passed laws in 2008 to allow livestock or dog owners, or their designated agents, to remove, capture, or, if necessary, use lethal means to destroy a wolf that is "in the act of preying upon" the owner's livestock or dogs. Those state laws will now go into effect on Friday, Jan. 27. What was the status of those laws between 2008 and now?

Eichinger: PA's 290 and 318 of 2008 have effectively been in abeyance since being signed by the governor several years ago. Work on those bills began as one of the previous, aborted rulemakings for delisting was underway and concluded after the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) had filed suit against the Department of the Interior, which ultimately agreed to discontinue their effort to delist at that time. The bills were amended to become effective when either HSUS v. Kempthorne resulted in delisting, or the Department of the Interior, acting through the USFWS, was able to promulgate a final rule delisting gray wolves in Michigan. As the latter will happen on Jan. 27, those laws will also become effective at that time.

Thorpe: After the wolf is taken off the federal endangered species list, it will remain a protected species in Michigan under state law. How will that work?

Eichinger: "Protected" is the term used for animals for which we do not have hunting or trapping seasons, effectively "protected" from take. The term in and of itself does not imply special status. However, wolves will be managed according to the Michigan Wolf Management Plan, which, as I noted above, is fundamental to delisting and will guide our management of wolves to provide for their long-term conservation.

Thorpe: The DNR offers a grant program that provides funding to livestock owners with wolf predation issues for improved fencing and guard animals such as llamas, donkeys and Great Pyrenees dogs. Can you tell us about that? Can a llama really square off with a wolf?

Eichinger: The DNR administers pass-through funding from the USFWS for non-lethal predator control techniques. So it is not a DNR program in the traditional sense -- we're the outlet for federal money. The program was created by Congress to assist in resolving predator conflicts (wolves, primarily) with livestock within the legal restrictions of the ESA.

The effectiveness of guard animals can be a hotly debated topic, depending on whom you are speaking with. In reality, llamas are probably not effective in deterring wolves; however, certain dogs can be effective, provided they have bonded sufficiently to the livestock. Most of the guard animal studies have been conducted using sheep and the effectiveness of guard animals for cattle, which would be the dominant context in Michigan, is not as well understood.

This program should be recognized for what it was intended to be: a stopgap measure for controlling wolves while their legal status was still being sorted out.

Published: Thu, Jan 5, 2012

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