BY LISA NEFF
The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to strip wolves of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The 242–161 vote was on amending a hunting bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.
“This vote by the U.S. House of Representatives is a crack at the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act, a law that has a 99 percent success rate at pulling species back from the brink of extinction,” said Drew Caputo of the environmental group Earthjustice. “Ninety percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the act. If we continue down this slippery slope, we could end up in a world where our children or grandchildren might never again see a bald eagle, or a breaching whale, or hear the cry of a wolf in the wild.”
Amendment sponsors include U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Benishek of Michigan, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
Their measure, which the House voted for in late February, would override the federal court rulings that state management plans do not sufficiently protect wolves and return species management to states. This could again allow for the trophy hunting of Great Lakes wolves and the killing of wolves in most of Wyoming, where a management plan would provided for shooting wolves on site.
The amendment also contains a clause precluding further judicial review of the removal of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“If enacted, this legislation could prove devastating for the recovery of wolves in the continental United States,” said Caputo. “What’s at stake here is whether wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes will again face the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.”
The House vote came less than two months after Congress rejected a rider to an omnibus spending bill that would have removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.
A similar push is on in the U.S. Senate. In January, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works added a provision to the Sportsmen’s Act to subvert the judicial process and delist wolves. Currently, gray wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and as “endangered” for Wyoming, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Both the House and Senate measures would order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue a rule to delist the gray wolf. The rule was first issued in late 2011 and cleared the way for states to manage wolf populations, which quickly led to the slaughter of wolves.
Wisconsin legislators legalized the use of firearms and crossbows to kill wolves. The state also legalized the baiting, trapping and hounding of wolves.
“In Wisconsin, wolves are killed in some of the most brutal ways,” said Wendy Keefover, manager of The Humane Society of the United State’s native carnivore protection program. “Wisconsin is the only state where you can hound wolves. You can bait wolves. You can use neck snares to trap a wolf. …Wisconsin has some of the most egregious ways to kill.”
Different numbers can be found for the wolf hunts held in 2012–13, 2013–14 and 2014–15 in Wisconsin.
Data from HSUS shows:
■ 2012–13: The 2012 winter wolf count was 779–804 in 205 packs. The proposed hunting quota was 201 wolves. The DNR reported the killing of 117 wolves: 56 hunted and 61 trapped.
■ 2013–14: The wolf population was 660–689 in 197 packs. During that “season,” 17 wolf packs disappeared and the population declined by 19 percent. The HSUS said 65 wolves were killed for livestock depredation, 21 died in vehicle collisions, 59 were killed illegally, and hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves. Some 16,672 applications were filed and 1,879 permits were sold for the trophy hunt.
■ 2014–15: The state issued 1,500 permits to hunters and trappers and set a hunt quota of 156 wolves, prompting an appeal from The HSUS, which said the pace of trophy hunting, along with poaching, would cause a population crash. The HSUS estimated the total number of wolves killed was 301. Less than a week into the hunt, the DNR closed four of the six zones, with half the zones exceeding quotas.
“There was such a rush to hunt,” said Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The HSUS.
“After delisting, the only management tool offered by our state or the other states was to kill wolves,” said environmental activist Kelly Powell of Madison. “That isn’t a management plan. That’s slaughter. That isn’t the way to deal with a recovering species.”
The official wolf hunting season in Wisconsin ended in early December 2014.
That month, a federal judge overturned the delisting of the Great Lakes wolves, putting permitted hunts on hold.
Benishek, in a statement, said the delisting amendment “was based on valuable input from both Michigan and federal officials in order to use sound science to responsibly manage the wolf population while also meeting the needs of local communities. As the number of wolves has increased well beyond the recommended number for recovery, there has been a negative impact on other species and a constant threat to livestock and pets.”
The delisting measure has the support of Safari Club International, a hunting group, and the National Rifle Association, the largest gun ownership group in the United States.
On the opposing side, Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Humane Society of the United States, along with many state and local organizations, maintain the congressional push to delist wolves does not involve sound science or responsible management, nor does it have widespread public support.
“I just really want to emphasize that the American public and the majority of Wisconsinites value and appreciate wolves as they icon that they are,” said Keefover.
She and Tedrowe said the drive to delist is based on myths about wolves as predators and ignores the role of large carnivores in the ecosystem.
A year ago, a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations suggested reclassifying the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States. That move would continue federal oversight and funding for species recovery efforts but provide some regulatory flexibility to address wolf conflicts.
“A congressional end run around science and the Endangered Species Act will create more controversy and put wolves and the law itself in jeopardy,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said at the time. “The better path is to downlist wolves to threatened, replace the failed piecemeal efforts of the past with a new science-based recovery strategy and bring communities together to determine how wolves will be returned to and managed in places where they once lived.”
The proposal pending in the Senate and the measure that passed the House does not take that approach. Another version of the Senate bill lacks the delisting amendment, and others opposed by animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.
Activists also have grave concerns that lawmakers may attach riders to budget bills providing for the delisting of gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.