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Biden administration files placeholder for wolf appeal

Agency says move doesn't necessarily signal a final opinion by the administration.

The Biden administration this week filed an appeal to a federal February court order that restored protections for wolves across most of the U.S, but it's unclear if the administration will continue to challenge the order.
Contributed / International Wolf Center

DULUTH — The Biden administration this week filed a placeholder to appeal the February court order restoring federal protections for wolves across much of the U.S., including in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

The administration filed a notice of appeal to a federal judge’s order in February restoring endangered species protections for gray wolves that were removed under the Trump administration late in 2020.

It’s unclear, however, if the administration will continue with the appeal, with agency officials saying it was done only as a placeholder with the deadline for any appeal approaching.

“The U.S. Department of Justice filed a protective notice regarding the recent decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on federal protections for gray wolves,” the Interior Department said in a statement to the News Tribune on Wednesday afternoon "This action is a procedural step that will provide the federal government the time needed to assess its path forward and does not signal that the federal government has determined that an appeal will be pursued.”

Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which supports federal wolf protections, said agency officials also told her no decision has been made on whether to appeal or not. Several ranching and hunting groups already have appealed the decision, saying federal protections are no longer necessary.


“No matter who appeals, we’re prepared to defend the well-reasoned court order that returned life-saving federal protections to wolves, Adkins said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in November 2020 that the wolves no longer qualified for protections under the Endangered Species Act. The delisting rule applied to gray wolves across much of the contiguous U.S. and drew multiple lawsuits from environmental groups.

The Trump administration, and possibly now the Biden administration, followed the efforts of every president since Bill Clinton in supporting removing wolves from the federal list because they are thriving in places like Minnesota and Wisconsin. But some biologists and wolf advocacy groups say it’s too soon to hand control of the big canines back to states which have conducted aggressive wolf hunting and trapping seasons to cull wolf numbers when allowed.

The judge who ordered wolves back under protection said the federal government had failed to adequately consider threats to wolves outside core populations in the Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountains and ruled that the agency also failed to address indications that west coast wolves had distinct genetic traits that could set them apart from wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.

The case now moves to the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

This story was edited at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 27 to add a statement and context from the U.S. Interior Department. It was originally published at 2 p.m.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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