Ranchers fight to delist gray wolf
Calving season is challenging enough for ranchers who must contend with cold weather and blizzards, but add in predators, like the gray wolf, and keeping new calves safe is a losing battle.
“I have had trouble for many years with wolves, but the worst year was when they took one-fourth of my calf crop — I was 26 calves short,” said Joe Wilebski, a rancher from northern Minnesota in Kittson County, located just a mile from the Canadian border. “I had three different federal trappers in. First they caught an 84-lb. wolf, and then they caught 103-lb. alpha and things settled down a little bit after that.”
Before enlisting professional help, Wilebski had tried everything within the confines of the law to protect his cattle from the gray wolf, which is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“Over the years, we’ve tried donkeys, radios and flashing lights to ward the wolves off, but nothing seemed to work until the trappers caught the alpha,” said Wilebski. “They estimated there were 12-15 wolves in the pack near our ranch.”
On June 25, Wilebski drove five hours to Brainerd, Minn. to testify before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s only public hearing regarding the U.S. Department of Interior’s proposal to end federal protection for nearly all gray wolves in the lower 48 states.
“The reason we keep species listed is because we want to protect species from going extinct. Wolves are not even close to that,” said Lori Nordstrom, an assistant regional director with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They’re doing very well in the Great Lakes region, and they’re also expanding out west.”
The proposal opened for public comment on March 15, and the comment period on http://www.regulations.gov has extended until July 15, 2019.
To date, nearly 650,000 comments have been submitted online, and the public forum in Brainerd attracted farmers, ranchers, hunters, wildlife advocates, environmentalist groups and concerned citizens from across the country who shared impassioned speeches late into the night on both sides of the issue.
“Many state officials already disregard the damage that wolf-killing has on the population, the pack structure, and the wolves’ genetic diversity,” said Maureen Hackett, Howling for Wolves founder and president. “Wolves die in many ways when they lose federal protections, and this harms the long-term survival of wolves for future generations. Human attitudes are not ready for wolves to lose federal protections.”
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are more than 6,000 gray wolves in nine states across the nation, and Minnesota has the most at more than 2,650. In Canada, wolf numbers are closer to 50,000.
“Minnesota is actually home to the largest population of gray wolves in the lower 48 states,” said Ashley Kohls, Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association executive director. “The wolf range in Minnesota is vast, and there’s an active wolf pack within an hour of the Twin Cities. We hear from cattlemen a lot about issues they are having with calving, but we are also hearing from more and more folks about pets, especially as these packs move closer and closer to urban areas.”
A recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling and reported by ____ showed that 54% of respondents oppose the Trump Administration’s plan to end wolf protections.
“This proposal by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to remove wolves from the list of endangered species is another egregious example of the Trump administration’s relentless assault on wildlife protections,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, in her testimony. “The return of the wolf to the northern Rockies and Great Lakes is one of America’s greatest conservation successes, but wolves are still absent from much of their historic range where there is suitable habitat. The work of recovering this iconic species is not done and we will vigorously oppose this action.”
Previous administrations have made efforts to delist the gray wolf, yet protections remained due to policies being overruled in the court system.
“Anyone who lives in wolf country can tell you that this species, which was placed on the Endangered Species list in 1974, has been fully recovered for some time,” said Tanner Beymer, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association manager of government affairs. “They have exceeded recovery goals, and their populations are really recovering on the range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Trump Administration, promulgated a proposed rule to delist this species, building off a proposed rule that began under the Obama Administration in 2013.”
“Despite its evident recovery, the gray wolf remains listed thanks to an activist judge who lives on the East coast, hundreds of miles away from gray wolf territory,” said Congressman Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), in a press release. “This ruling means the gray wolf can only be killed if it threatens a human life, leaving Minnesota families and farmers with no legal option to protect their pets or livestock should they be attacked. The purpose of the Endangered Species Act was never to permanently list a species. In fact, manipulating the legal system to evade a process that is based on science is an abuse of this law and a disservice to our citizens and our wildlife.”
“The administration’s decision to de-list the gray wolf is the culmination of a decades’ long battle that has pitted science-based decision making against litigious, environmental activism,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. “The Bush and Obama administrations supported de-listing the gray wolf. Populations have far surpassed the recovery thresholds set forth by recovery plans, but too many environmentalists fail to recognize this success. A third administration is now moving to delist the gray wolf. The time has come to resolve this issue once and for all and to base that decision on the science and the law.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, “The gray wolf joins the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, American alligator, brown pelican and 33 other species of animals and plants in U.S. states, territories and waters that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA.”
Furthermore, the agency reports, “The gray wolf has already been delisted in the Northern Rocky Mountains. The states of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington have shown their ability to manage this delisted wolf population responsibly so that it remains healthy and sustainable. Populations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are also strong and wolves have begun to expand into northern California and Western Oregon and Washington.”
Instructions on how to submit comments are provided at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0097.
“I’m not asking to eradicate this species; I’ve lived with wildlife all my life,” said Wilebski. “I just hope the wolves get delisted to help control the populations and protect these young ranchers and their livelihoods.”
For more information on this topic, visit http://www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/.