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Groups fight over wolf hunting

By Dave Golowenski
For The Columbus Dispatch

To kill or not to kill wolves, that is a question legal, moral and, apparently, spiritual.

Since losing protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2011, western wolves have become legal game during seasons in Idaho and Montana. Wolves can be killed based on quotas intended not to harm the viability of the population, estimated regionally at about 1,700 in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Last week, wolf advocates lost an attempt to stop hunting by claiming an amendment added to the 2011 defense bill violated the constitutional separation of powers. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no constitutional mandates were broken when the amendment introduced by senators John Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) gave their respective states control of wolf management and blocked further judicial review.

The case pitted the Center for Biological Diversity and three other wildlife advocacy groups against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Among groups filing briefs in support of the federal government were the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International and the farm bureau federations of Idaho and Montana.

About 4,500 wolves are estimated to be residing in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, where delisting went into effect in January. A move by Wisconsin legislators toward legalizing controlled wolf hunting in the state has run into a stumbling block, however.

Eleven tribes of the Ojibwe, also known as the Chippewa, in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan oppose a wolf hunt. Their disapproval, filed with the legislature in written testimony, is based on religious principle and a tradition that links the health of the tribe to the state of the wolf population.

Courts have ruled the tribes should have a say in matters such as a wolf hunt on land they control. Should legislators go ahead with a wolf hunting season, an additional complication is that half of the wolves harvested would belong to the tribes under existing agreements.