Federal wildlife authorities mull gray wolves’ future
By Harvey T. Rockwood
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has scheduled a public hearing in
Bloomington on the status of Minnesota’s gray wolf population in advance
of the animals’ possible removal from federal endangered and threatened
U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has indicated that the wolves’
population in northeastern quadrant of the country has rebounded from near
extinction in many areas to large numbers of packs capable of sustaining
the species’ health without federal protection.
Under the plan, responsibility for management of wolves would gradually be
turned over to the states.
Animals on federal endangered or threatened lists can be killed only under
rare circumstances, such as for killing livestock. Efforts are made to
maintain the habitat of animals on the list.
If taken off the lists, wolves could be killed if they posed a threat to
livestock, even if no attacks had occurred, according to FWS. The agency
would continue to monitor wolf populations for five years.
Several environmental organizations and American Indian groups contend,
however, that “de-listing” gray wolves will send their populations
plummeting once again.
Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife has filed a federal lawsuit
to block the action, contending it would end the wolves’ recovery in areas
where it is not complete.
The hearing, which is open to the public, is set for Wednesday, Oct. 6, in
the Visitor Center at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 3815
E. American Blvd. (formerly East 80th Street).
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a presentation on the wolves’
population trends by FWS wildlife experts, said Georgia Parham,
spokeswoman for the agency.
The agency’s experts will then field questions from the audience and a
formal public hearing will begin around 7:30 p.m., she said.
“A court reporter will be there to transcribe the testimony,” Parham said.
Written comments will also be accepted.
The hearing in Bloomington will be the last of nine scheduled across
Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin over the past several weeks. Testimony
was taken in earlier hearings at Bemidji and Virginia, Minn.
Published reports following those meetings indicated conflicting testimony
from environmentalists who want to preserve the wolves’ endangered status
and landowners worried about loss of livestock and pets to the predators.
Gray wolves once roamed in large numbers across much of North America,
including almost all of Minnesota and much of the surrounding region.
Hunting, trapping and poisoning brought the wolves’ numbers to record lows
- perhaps as few as 350 – by the early 1970s, according to the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources.
From 1849 through 1965, Minnesota paid a bounty on gray wolves to hunters.
Gray wolves have been protected in Minnesota since 1978. The DNR estimates
there are now around 2,450 wolves in the state.
Although wolf populations in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin now top
federal recovery goals, Defenders of Wildlife and 18 other groups, along
with the National Wildlife Federation in Vermont, have sued the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service in an effort to stop the de-listing process.
The FWS hearings follow the agency’s announcement in July, proposing the
de-listing of gray wolves in the “Eastern Distinct Population Segment.”
The Eastern DPS extends from the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas to the East
Coast. The southern boundary includes Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio,
Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Its northern boundary is the Canadian border.
The Fish and Wildlife Service noted that wolves in the Eastern DPS have
climbed beyond population criteria set out in the species’ recovery plan.
Further, the eastern states with gray wolf populations – Minnesota,
Michigan and Wisconsin – have management plans in place to ensure the
species’ long-term survival, the FWS observed.
Environmental groups disagree with the FWS assessment.
“The Bush administration’s latest initiative to remove federal protections
for the gray wolf throughout the entire eastern U.S. is another example of
their blatant disregard for public comment and scientific scrutiny,” said
Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife.
“These actions demonstrate both an irresponsible and arrogant approach to
protecting a threatened species,” Clark said in a prepared statement. “The
administration appears to be more concerned with political expediency than
appropriate execution of conservation law.”
The lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife contends that the FWS
designation of “distinct population segments” were not based on science or
to promote wolf recovery. Rather, the environmental group contends, they
were developed so that the FWS could move as quickly as possible to
eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves.
“[Federal officials] are leaving little room, and even less time, for
open, public, transparent discussions,” Clark said. “There’s no need to
rush the process, particularly since it is in the federal court system.
“The Interior Department should wait for a solid court decision before
issuing an arbitrary rule that ultimately removes protections for a
According to the Minnesota DNR, the state has developed a wolf plan that
meets federal guidelines for protecting the species. Under the plan, no
hunting or trapping of wolves would be allowed for the first five years
after the species was removed from the endangered list. Exceptions would
be allowed for wolves killing livestock or threatening domestic pets.
The FWS will take comments on the federal de-listing proposal through Nov.
18. The agency will decide whether to adopt the plan sometime in next
More information on the gray wolf proposal is available online at