by Brett Neely
WASHINGTON – While most observers are busy looking for items that may have been stuffed into the giant year-end spending bill that Congress is working on, GOP Reps. John Kline and Chip Cravaack are concerned about what’s missing from the bill: a policy provision on managing gray wolf populations in the upper Midwest.
Some background first. Gray wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, but the animal’s population has rebounded significantly in recent years. Farmers, ranchers and hunters have long petitioned for the wolf to be removed from the endangered species list and wildlife groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation have supported that move.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of writing up new rules that would remove protection from the wolf population in Minnesota and neighboring states. Those rules are expected to come into force by the end of the year.
But in recent weeks, there had been talk on Capitol Hill of including a policy rider to the Interior Department’s spending bill that would limit judicial review of the agency’s decision. That measure had the support of Kline and Cravaack, who argued that the wolf issue had been extensively researched and any lawsuits to block the wolf’s delisting would simply delay the process further. Earlier this year the pair, along with DFL Rep. Collin Peterson, had introduced legislation to delist the grey wolf from the endangered species list in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
While the wildlife groups supported delisting the wolf, they were nervous about the precedent that could be set if Congress exempted delisting from lawsuits. The groups argued that poorly written rules couldn’t be challenged in court and the rider would grant too much power to the federal government. That argument apparently carried the day.
When the House Appropriations Committee posted the full text of the year-end spending bill that had been laboriously negotiated with Senate Democrats early Thursday morning, the wolf language was nowhere to be found.
“I find that particularly troubling because there’s been bipartisan support for doing this,” Kline said. “It should have been straightforward but apparently someone in the White House complained.”
Cravaack also reacted.
“It’s unbelievable that the provisions aimed toward protecting private property and ensuring greater public safety from problem wolves were removed from this legislation by Senate Democrat Leadership and the White House,” said Cravaack. “Minnesota’s 8th District has the highest population of gray wolves in the Upper Midwest, and currently the state DNR, farmers, livestock producers, and families have little means to deal with this matter accordingly.”
Still, while the pair is upset that the policy rider wasn’t attached to the spending bill, the Fish and Wildlife Service remains on track to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list by the end of this year.