By Heather Thorstensen
Minnesota has had a plan in place to manage its gray wolf population for a decade but, as a federal agency prepares to shift control back to the state, it’s uncertain whether money will be available to handle control efforts as planned.
The Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will publish a final rule by the end of the year that would remove protections that Minnesota’s wolf population has under the Endangered Species Act. The wolf is currently listed as a threatened species.
The rule would give wolf management back to the state through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR would follow a management plan that calls for funding from a cost-share agreement between state and federal dollars.
So far, federal funds have paid for USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, an agency responsible for trapping and removing or killing depredating wolves. Since wolves are protected, only authorized state or federal personnel can take a wolf.
However, the budget to pay for these trappers was cut by Congress. Funding briefly ran dry Oct. 1 before USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack dedicated more money for federal trappers in Minnesota until the end of the year.
The Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association says it’s a top priority to get long-term funding for these trappers so they can remain on the job after the state takes control. MSCA’s executive director, Joe Martin, says the association is working with the state’s Congressional delegation to secure the funding.
“Part of the message we’ve tried to convey is even after the wolves are de-listed and returned to state management, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t going to be a (threat) on livestock or pets, or threatening human safety. Because of that, we still have a need for expert trappers to be called on to remove wolves,” Martin said.
Dan Stark, the large carnivore program leader at the Minnesota DNR, says the state plan — which was finalized back in 2001 —anticipates it will cost $200,000 per year to handle wolf control with support from federal funds. The state legislature has appropriated $120,000 per year for 2012 and 2013 in anticipation that wolves will be de-listed.
The federal funding for wolf management in the state that was cut was $276,000.Wildlife Services, which can also receive funds from other sources, spent approximately $550,000 responding to wolf damage last year.
“We don’t have a budget identified to fund that at that level,” said Stark.
If federal funding isn’t restored, the state will have to look at ways to maintain the program. They can certify private trappers, residents will be able to shoot wolves under certain conditions and the DNR has been authorized to develop a wolf hunting season, pending public comment, Stark said.
“There certainly would be a different level of depredation response,” he said.
The Minnesota State Cattlemen plan to work with the DNR, Minnesota Department of Agriculture and USDA to work out a cost-share agreement. The details have to be worked out, but Martin said it would be reasonable to have the state pay 50 percent and the federal government pay 50 percent.
In Montana and Idaho— states that regained their wolf management responsibilities— depredation response is funded through a combination of state, county, federal and private contributions. Some of the money comes from a tax on livestock owners.
The state cattlemen’s association supports the state regaining control of wolf management because it gives livestock owners more options. Instead of waiting for the wolves to attack their livestock before they call trappers, residents will be able to shoot and destroy wolves in certain situations.
• Minnesota’s U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have indicated they are focused on funding trappers while the wolves are protected. Klobuchar has a commitment from DOI Secretary Ken Salazar that Minnesota’s wolves will be de-listed in a legally defensible way by the end of the year.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has unsuccessfully attempted to permanently de-list the wolf before. If it’s unsuccessful this time, funding for federal trappers could run out while wolves are still protected, leaving farmers with no protection of their own from wolf attacks on livestock. “If they take the law into their own hands, they’ll be charged with a felony,” Martin said.
• If wolves aren’t de-listed by Jan. 1, the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association wants to see protections for wolves removed through legislation.
• A group of state legislators have called on Klobuchar and Franken to support similar legislation to H.R. 2584. The bill states de-listing wolves are not subject to judicial review.