On wolves, Minnesota’s reps go two directions

Washington — It was a week ago that U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture free up money to ensure USDA Wildlife Services trappers be available to address wolf depredation in Minnesota, as well as Wisconsin and Michigan.

Peterson and a number of other members of Congress – including Minnesotan Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Reps. Rick Nolan, Tim Walz, John Kline, and Tom Emmer – submitted a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, stating that the Wildlife Services program “offered much-needed services that helped people every day who felt the safety of their families, livestock, or pets were in jeopardy.”

When gray wolves were delisted in 2012, the three Midwestern states that hold wolf populations took over management. That changed last December following a federal court ruling that returned the species to the protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Peterson also has co-authored a bill that would return management of wolves to the states.

Also recently, another member of Minnesota’s federal delegation has taken a different view of the wolf situation.

Rep. Betty McCollum, a 4th District Democrat, was one of about 80 members of Congress who signed a letter sent to Sally Jewell, secretary of the Department of the Interior urging that the secretary put “an end to the cycle of policy proposals and legal defeats over gray wolves at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The Service’s focus on removing wolves from the endangered species list not only ignores science, but also poses a direct threat to the credibility of an agency and the long-term viability of the Endangered Species Act,” the letter states. “Scientific experts have shown, and courts have confirmed, that the best available science does not justify the removal of all ESA protections for gray wolves at this time.”

In late January, animal rights groups including the Humane Society of the United States (which brought the lawsuit that led to the December relisting decision by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell) and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the USFWS to reclassify gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act as threatened in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.

It was an approach echoed in the letter from McCollum and others: “As an alternative, we urge you to direct the (USFWS) to follow the science and the law and modify the June 2013 proposed delisting of gray wolves to instead downlist the species to threatened status. This approach would allow states significantly increased certainty and flexibility in managing wolves within their borders, while also ensuring that the species can continue to recover in suitable areas,” the letter states.

While the states of Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as a group of conservation organizations, have filed briefs to ask that the court decision be reversed, there’s also been federal legislation introduced to do the same – but perhaps in a more prompt fashion.

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also recently filed a notice of appeal, meaning that option remains open.

The state of Wisconsin in late February filed a brief signifying its appeal of the December court decision. A day later, Michigan followed suit.

In a Michigan DNR press release, DNR Director Keith Creagh said, “Returning wolf management to wildlife professionals in the state of Michigan is critical to retaining a recovered, healthy, and socially accepted wolf

population in our state. Michigan residents who live with wolves deserve to have a full range of tools available sustainably manage that population.”

Russ Mason, Michigan Wildlife Division chief, said Great Lakes wolves are “fully recovered from endangered species status …”

The state of Minnesota thus far has taken no action to appeal the federal court order, though DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier said it’s on the department’s radar, and could occur soon.

Two U.S. House bills remain in play that could more quickly address wolf management. One is sponsored by Minnesota Republican John Kline, the other, by Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble, one that would allow wolves to be federally listed, if warranted. Kline’s bill would largely close the door to that option.

Collin Peterson has signed onto the Ribble bill, and in a press release states, “Farmers should not have to choose between protecting their livelihood and complying with federal law. This bill will provide a legal avenue to balance safety, economic, and gray wolf populations management issues.”

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