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Traverse City — A letter signed by 26 wildlife scientists urges the federal government to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered list.

The scientists sent the letter Wednesday to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolves nearly disappeared from the lower 48 states in the last century but have bounced back in some areas with federal protection. The combined population in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin is about 3,700.

Animal advocacy groups have used lawsuits to block government attempts to drop Great Lakes wolves from the endangered list and contend their status remains shaky.

In their letter, the specialists say the integrity of the Endangered Species Act is undercut if species aren’t removed when they’ve scientifically recovered.

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