Congress takes aim at wolf delisting

Washington — Word on the street since a federal judge’s decision in December put gray wolves back on the endangered species list was that members of Congress might address the issue with legislation of their own.

Last week, two House members introduced bills to do just that, one of them from Minnesota Republican John Kline. His bill addresses wolf management in the western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The other, introduced by Rep. Reid Ribble, a Wisconsin Republican, would include those three states, as well as Wyoming, where federal protections were restored last September. 

“Wolf attacks are a concern for farmers and livestock producers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where the overpopulation of gray wolves is directly linked to the decline of livestock and other animals,” Kline said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list and return management to the states, providing greater flexibility and giving states exclusive jurisdiction over the wolves within their own borders.”

Kline’s legislation, known as the “Western Great Lakes Wolf Management Act of 2015,” states that any wolf in Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin “shall not be treated under any status of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, including as an endangered species, a threatened species, an essential experimental population, or a nonessential experimental population.”

Wolves in the three states became federally protected Dec. 19 following the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell. The Humane Society of the United States and others had sued to return protections to wolves afforded by the ESA following delisting early in 2012.

According to Kline, gray wolves currently are well beyond the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s delisting criteria of 1,251 to 1,400 wolves in Minnesota and 100 combined for the states of Wisconsin and Michigan. 

The bill also “allows states to enact protections equivalent to the Endangered Species Act if they wish.”

In a letter to members of Congress, Kline wrote: “This bill ensures the long-term survival of the gray wolf by allowing state experts to manage their populations, and gives those negatively affected by wolf populations a reprieve from losses.”

Ribble’s bill’s co-sponsors include Dan Benishek, R-Mich., Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and John Moolenaar, R-Mich. Ribble shared introduction of the bill with Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Republican.

According to a press release from the representatives, the bill “would simply reinstate two decisions of the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the gray wolf from the endangered species list and allow states to continue their successful population management plans.”

Different from Kline’s bill, with this legislation the “ESA and the ability of the USFWS to re-list the gray wolf in the case of future population changes are left entirely intact.”

Both bills in the House could take a path similar to that of 2011 legislation, when Congress removed wolves from federal listing in Idaho and Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Utah.

Michigan’s wolf population is estimated to be about 640 wolves. They’re considered an “endangered” species in the state, meaning wolves may only be killed if they are threatening human life.

“I’ve lived in northern Michigan my whole life, and I have a great respect for all of the wildlife here, including the wolves,” Benishek, a native of Iron Mountain, said in a statement. “After gaining valuable input from

Michigan officials while helping to craft this legislation, I am pleased that this bill will empower state governments to be responsible stewards of the wolf population in order to balance the protection of the species with the needs of local communities.”

Lawsuits have stopped or reversed four times since 2003 federal decisions to delist wolves in the Midwest. Usually initiating the suits are groups like the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The CBD was critical of the proposed legislation, and said that courts got it right in returning federal protections to wolves in the Midwest, and Wyoming.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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