Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Congress takes aim at gray wolf delisting

Washington — When other avenues fail, consider Congress. When it
comes to wolf delisting – in the Midwest and the Northern Rockies –
that seems to be the choice de jour, as U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service efforts to delist the species could take up to a couple
years.

Wolf delisting has been a hot topic – in the Midwest, but more so
in Western states like Montana and Idaho, where wolf hunts were
cancelled this year by court order.

U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Steve Kagen of
Wisconsin are cosponsors of House legislation that would exclude
wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act. The bill, HR 6028,
was introduced by Texas Rep. Chet Edwards in July.

“… to amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to prohibit
treatment of the gray wolf as an endangered species or threatened
species,” the bill states.

“Federal wolf recovery experts have said that the reintroduction of
the gray wolf is a success … It’s time to let state wildlife
professionals do their job and balance the needs of predator and
prey to maintain a healthy balance,” said Rep. Jim Matheson, a
co-sponsor from Utah.

The bill was directed to the House Natural Resources Committee
where it is yet to be debated.

Matheson said the bill partly was in response to legal challenges
by animal-rights groups who have argued the gray wolf should not be
removed from the endangered species list until it has been
re-established in the lower 48 states.

“Instead of wasting money on court fights, let’s focus on long-term
sustainability of wildlife and habitat conservation  … “ he
said.

The Center for Biological Diversity recently called for expanding
the range of wolves in the United States, and disputes the
legislation.

“Recovery of endangered wolves is still far from complete,” said
Michael Robinson, of the CBD. “Wolves occupy a mere 5 percent of
their historical range in the continental United States and
continue to be threatened by illegal killing and government
predator control.”

However, in the Midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota), as
well as the Northern Rockies (mostly in Idaho, Montana, and
Wyoming), wolves have long met federal population recovery goals.
In the Midwest, the population is likely more than 4,000 wolves –
about 3,000 in Minnesota, where the species is classified as
threatened, and some lethal control is allowed by federal Wildlife
Services (USDA) personnel.

The House bill is just one of several that lawmakers in the Senate
and House have introduced that would delist wolves in the lower 48
states.

A bill unveiled recently by a group of Western senators – the
“Returning Wolf Management to the States Act” (S. 3919) – would
allow states to handle wolves posing threats to livestock, the
authors said.

“Washington needs to get out of the way of how states control wolf
populations,” said Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, in a press
release.

A measure introduced earlier by Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester,
both Montana Democrats, would leave wolves endangered in Wyoming,
which has a “shoot-on-sight” law for wolves across most of the
state.

And Idaho’s delegation has a “fall-back” plan that would delist
wolves just in that state and Montana.

Twice in the past three-plus years wolves have been removed from
the endangered species list in the Midwest, only to see litigation
return ESA protections.

Earlier this year, the departments of natural resources in
Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance
and Safari Club International petitioned the USFWS to remove wolves
from the list.

The USFWS recently announced the petitions “contain substantial
information indicating that delisting may be warranted. The Service
will begin an in-depth review of the species’ status in order to
determine whether to propose gray wolves in the western Great Lakes
region for delisting.”

The finding, according to the USFWS, didn’t determine removal of
wolves from the endangered species list in those states is
appropriate. Rather, “it triggers a more thorough review of all the
biological information available,” the press release states.

Federal officials, though, doubt “wolf bills” will make much
headway this year, with elections nearing and the makeup of
Congress likely to change, at least somewhat.

More than likely, legislation that would remove protections for
wolves will need to be re-introduced during the next session.

Problem wolves have gained notoriety in Michigan, Minnesota, and
Wisconsin this year.

In Michigan, 45 wolf attacks have left 65 livestock dead so far
this year, more than triple the numbers from 2009.

In Minnesota, complaints about wolves were coming at a record pace
this summer, with more than 200 received (up considerably from
years past). 

Most of those complaints come from owners of livestock.

In Wisconsin, wolves have killed livestock, but they’ve also been
responsible for the deaths of more than a dozen hunting dogs –
mostly bear hounds – this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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