Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Legislators look to address gray wolf issue

Madison — It appears several of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation are not only aware of, but are willing to work on, a legislative or budgetary solution to delisting Great Lakes wolves once and for all, but the best path to that end has not yet been determined.

A spokesman in Rep. Reid Ribble’s, R-Wis., office said last week that work has started on possibly attaching a rider to a funding bill that would not only delist wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, but also Wyoming.

This type of action would be similar to a path used by Montana and Idaho in 2011 to delist wolves in those states.

Ribble is leading the effort. Co-sponsors include U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Dan Benishek, R-Mich., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.

“I am pursuing a bipartisan legislative fix that will allow the Great Lakes states to continue the effective work they are doing in managing wolf populations without tying the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service or undermining the Endangered Species Act,” Ribble said in a statement.

Wisconsin conservation groups, sportsmen, and even a couple of state politicians contacted the state’s federal delegation to begin plotting a move after U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell’s Dec. 19 ruling placed wolves back on the endangered species list.

A similar decision by a different federal judge in September stripped Wyoming of its wolf-management authority and returned that state’s wolves to federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

History

By 2007, the recovery goal for the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan wolf populations had not only been met but had nearly tripled, requiring delisting. By 2008, the recovery goal for the northern Rockies –  100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in each of the three states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) also had been exceeded by at least 300 percent. 

Despite the scientific evidence, the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies got a court order blocking delisting. 

In late 2010, many believed congressional action was needed because USFWS attempts to delist wolves had been thwarted by federal judges’ rulings on lawsuits brought by animal rights groups that also oppose most forms of hunting. 

Earlier that 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, and in early December, the agency announced that it intended to remove wolves in the Western Great Lakes region as a listed species under ESA. 

Twice in the previous four years, wolves had been removed from the endangered species list in the Midwest, only to be re-listed by the courts, which made it nearly impossible for Wisconsin and other Midwestern states to deal effectively with wolf predation of livestock and other animals. 

Amos Eno, who worked at the USFWS Endangered Species Office crafting the amendments that strengthened the act, contended that the federal government could “recover and delist three dozen species” with the resources it spends responding to litigation. 

A new USFWS delisting proposal for wolves was published in 2011, with the USFWS stating, “Wolves continue to exceed recovery goals and are no longer threatened with extinction.” 

Many sportsmen and others remained skeptical regarding the success of this latest USFWS de-listing attempt, and were convinced that animal rights groups still had their sights set on the courts. 

“Not only are they preparing to challenge any move by the (USFWS) to delist the wolves in the courts, they are preparing to argue every angle imaginable to win,” said Jeremy Rhine, of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.

That skepticism proved to be warranted, as the delisting stuck for only three years, until Dec. 19, 2014, when Howell, in Washington, D.C., in response to a lawsuit filed by the Humane Society of the United States, ordered Great Lakes wolves back on the endangered species list.

The latest court decision has renewed calls for congressional action to permanently delist wolves in the three Great Lakes states.

Montana, Idaho

While this legislative path is not without pitfalls, success achieved in western states could help guide the process.

On April 14, 2011, Congress approved a budget bill that included a rider removing wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Utah from the federal endangered species list and set the stage for near-term delisting in Wyoming. The measure also returned control of wolf management to the states.

The vote marked the first time Congress had directly removed federal protections from an endangered species, circumventing the courts.

The rider to that funding bill was introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, and Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, who emphasized that wolves had long since met ESA recovery goals.

“This is more than a victory for Montana,” said Tester, who chaired the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus at the time. “It’s a win for rural America, for jobs, and for our wildlife – and it’s what’s right for the wolves themselves. This was never going to get done with partisan games or grandstanding. We fixed this problem with Montana values – by putting aside our differences and working together on a responsible, common-sense plan.”

Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s governor at the time, praised the delisting, saying, “Enough is enough. Montana must have the ability to manage wildlife, to do our job, to seek a balance among predator and prey. We need the authority to respond to the challenges wolves present every day.”

Several anti-hunting groups tried unsuccessfully to overturn the congressional action, but a federal judge sided with the Obama administration, which argued Congress had the authority to carve out an exception to the Endangered Species Act for a particular animal, like the gray wolf. 

Then a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed with the administration – joined by the two states and hunting and farm groups – that the hunts would not jeopardize recovery of the iconic animal.

Great Lakes situation

Now, new federal legislation in 2015 may provide the best chance to permanently remove wolves in the Western Great Lakes from ESA protection. Previously, bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would amend the ESA to prohibit treatment of the gray wolf as an endangered species or threatened species.

However, a quicker route likely would be to attach a rider to a funding bill – similar to what was done by federal legislators from Montana and Idaho – exempting Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species list. 

Contact with Wisconsin congressional delegates indicates that support remains strong for wolf delisting among members of the state’s delegation, and that some work currently is being done on such a rider. One option would be to attach the rider to a Homeland Security funding bill.

However, passage of any rider of this nature will require that people in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan contact their U.S. senators and representatives to support the measure.

At this point, organized congressional action from delegates in all three Great Lakes wolf states may be the only option to permanently remove wolves from federal protection, and allow the USFWS to focus its resources on species that of greater need for federal protection.

Wisconsin senators are:

• Tammy Baldwin, (202) 224-5653 or www.baldwin.senate.gov;
• Ron Johnson, (202) 224-5323 or www.ronjohnson.senate.gov.

Wisconsin congressmen are Paul Ryan, Mark Pocan, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, James Sensenbrenner Jr., Sean Duffy, Reid Ribble, and Glenn Grothman.
Contact them at:

• Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-01), (202) 225-3031 or https://paulryan.house.gov/contact/email.htm;
• Rep. Mark Pocan (D-02), (202) 225-2906 or https://pocan.house.gov/contact/email-me;
• Rep. Ron Kind (D-03), (202) 225-5506 or https://kindforms.house.gov/email-ron;
• Rep. Gwen Moore (D-04), (202) 225-4572 or https://gwenmoore.house.gov/contact-form;
• Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-05), (202) 225-5101, http://sensenbrenner.house.gov/contact/email.htm;
• Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-06), (202) 225-2476 or https://grothman.house.gov/contact-me/email-me;
• Rep. Sean Duffy (R-07), (202) 225-3365 or http://duffy.house.gov/contact;
• Rep. Reid Ribble (R-08), (202) 225-5665 or https://ribble.house.gov/contact-me/email-me.

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