Senate bill would delist wolves in Midwest
Washington — Members of the U.S. Senate late last month entered the fray that is gray wolves of the Midwest, and if they should or shouldn’t be listed as an endangered species. Currently, they are, leaving management of the species with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But it’s been a decade of listing and delisting, often settled by federal courts – a matter addressed in legislation last month introduced by Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Their bill would direct the secretary of the Interior “to reissue final rules related to the listing of the gray wolf in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.”
The bill is a companion to House legislation introduced in February by Reps. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
After a period of being delisted and during which state management of the species, including some hunting and trapping, occurred, federal protections were restored in September 2014 in Wyoming, and in December 2014 in the Midwestern states.
The Johnson/Barrasso bill would ban courts from overruling the Department of the Interior again on the matter. Congress imposed a similar requirement in 2011 to prevent judges from restoring protected status to wolves in Idaho and Montana, the first time lawmakers had directly removed a species from the endangered list.
The U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year filed an “intent to appeal” the December decision by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, who wrote that wolves hadn’t recovered in their historical range.
USFWS wolf population goals set for the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, were surpassed several years ago, however.
“After over 30 years of needed protection and professional pack population management, the wolf has made its comeback,” Johnson said in a press statement. “In 2011, the administration’s Department of the Interior determined the number of wolves in the western Great Lakes states to be sufficient and growing and made the correct decision to delist them as an endangered species. President Obama’s own Interior secretary applauded the decision.…
“Our bill’s language does not modify the Endangered Species Act, nor does it prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from ever returning the wolf to the endangered list if it determines the population is again threatened and in need of federal protection. I strongly agree with Wisconsin’s farmers, ranchers, loggers, and sportsmen that future gray wolf listing decisions should come from the experts, and not from judges,” Johnson said in the release.
The Johnson/Barrasso bill essentially reflects the action of the USFWS in 2011 when it announced its final decision to delist wolves in the Western Great Lakes region.
According to the USFWS at that time, “The (USFWS) is removing Endangered Species Act protection for the Western Great Lakes (distinct population segment of wolves) because the wolf population no longer meets the definitions of threatened or endangered.”
The final listing, made official in January 2012, triggered state management across the three Midwestern states. It also brought with it hunting and trapping seasons.
A recent wolf study determined the population in Minnesota to be about 2,200 animals, down around 200 from last year, but about the same as two years ago. The state’s minimum population goal is 1,600 wolves.
Wisconsin’s current wolf population is at least 746 to 771 wolves, according to that state’s DNR. According to the Michigan DNR, a 2014 survey indicated a minimum count of 636 wolves in the Upper Peninsula.
While the Michigan plan calls for a minimum sustainable population of 200 wolves in the U.P., Wisconsin’s plan calls for a minimum population of 350 outside of Indian reservations in the state.
In Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services is allowed to trap and euthanize wolves that have killed livestock.
In Wisconsin, where bears are hunted with hounds, more than 20 dogs have been killed by wolves this year, according to the Wisconsin DNR. As of last month, wolves also had accounted for the deaths of some 40 head of livestock – mostly cattle – in 2015.
Meanwhile, in Michigan it recently was reported that just three hunting dogs have been attacked by wolves this year, compared with 17 in 2014. Further, livestock depredation caused by wolves was down, too, from 23 last year to 11 so far in 2015.
Groups like the Humane Society of the United States and affiliates have sued numerous times over the years to keep wolves federally protected. The Minnesota-based wolf-advocacy organization Howling for Wolves recently held a “celebration rally” event at The Happy Gnome restaurant in St. Paul. In a press release, Howling’s founder and president Maureen Hackett called wolf hunting “reckless, unpopular, and unnecessary.”
Currently in all three Midwestern states, wolves may only be killed by citizens in defense of human life.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.