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Case made for wolf protections

A national environmental group is asking the federal government to keep Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Great Lakes and Rocky Mountains until wolves have returned across much more of the U.S.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition Tuesday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking the agency to scrap efforts to end federal protections for wolves in regions where they have strong populations and instead form a national recovery plan for the big predator.

The petition cites scientific data that concludes gray wolves can and should be recovered in "multiple, connected populations throughout the U.S.'' before they can be considered recovered under the Endangered Species Act.

"The act requires that wolf populations be recovered across a significant portion of their original range, and that isn't close to happening as yet,'' said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We need a national wolf plan and policy.''

The move is in direct opposition to efforts in Minnesota and Wisconsin to quickly eliminate federal wolf protections to allow states to manage their own wolves and to allow more wolf culling.

Rather than distinct populations in the western Great Lakes and Rocky Mountains, which the federal government has concluded is enough to call wolf recovery successful, the center wants wolves back in places like Colorado, New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Basin, California and the Great Plains where few or no wolves currently roam.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service agrees with the petition, or is compelled to accept it under court order, the agency would have to entirely rework its national wolf policy. That means the center's effort could delay indefinitely federal plans to hand management of wolves back to the states in areas where they have already rebounded - including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The feds have tried three times in the past decade to take Great Lakes wolves off the endangered species list. Each time they have been thwarted by court orders.