By STEVE KARNOWSKI | Associated Press
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday that it has come up with money to trap wolves that prey on livestock through the end of the year, a week after federal money ran out for helping Minnesota farmers and ranchers control wolves.
Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week, asking him to make emergency funding available. Signing the letter were Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Reps. Collin Peterson, Rick Nolan, Tom Emmer and Tim Walz. They heard back late Wednesday that the agency has found the money.
“I wanted to let you all know that we have agreed to fund control activities for the remainder of the year,” Chris Needham, a USDA congressional relations specialist, wrote to them. “We are also providing the yearly funding for control efforts for the next year.”
In their letter, the lawmakers cited Minnesota’s growing wolf population, which rose to an estimated 2,900 last winter, an increase of 25 percent in one year.
The federal government provides trapping services for farmers and ranchers facing problem wolves, which remain classified as a threatened species in the western Great Lakes region even though their populations have rebounded. Courts have repeatedly blocked efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan off the endangered list, so it remains illegal for farmers and hunters to shoot them except to protect human life.
While Minnesota’s wolf population is up, there hasn’t been a surge in complaints about attacks, said Gary Nohrenberg, state director for USDA Wildlife Services. The 10-year average is about 175 complaints a year, he said. There were 157 last year, he said, and this year’s total will be a little below the average.
Federal trappers in Minnesota kill an average of 179 wolves annually. Last year they removed 183. This year they’ve killed 197 as of last week, he said. But he said the higher figure this year isn’t necessarily why the money ran out. Sometimes a wolf is relatively easy to trap, he said, but catching wolves that have learned they’re being targeted can require more work.
Predation has been a particular problem lately in Roseau and Kittson counties of northwestern Minnesota and Carlton and northern Pine counties in northeastern Minnesota, said Thom Petersen, director of government relations for the Minnesota Farmers Union, who worked with the delegation to pressure the USDA.
“Hopefully in the next day or two trappers will be back on the job,” he said.
Wolf advocates have urged an emphasis on nonlethal means of protecting livestock, saying the species’ recovery remains fragile. This week the Minnesota Department of Agriculture started taking applications for $120,000 in grants to help producers prevent wolf attacks without killing them. The money can be used for guard animals, fencing, lights, alarms and other measures for reducing conflicts.