Sunday, January 18, 2015

Trouble's afoot: ruling on #wolves spurs Congress, DNR into action

By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel
The December federal judicial ruling that restored Endangered Species Act protections for the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes region abruptly ended most state wolf management programs, including hunting and trapping.

Only time will tell how many other actions the ruling will produce. At least two were noted in the last week. First, a bipartisan effort is emerging in Congress to draft a bill that would restore state management of wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and possibly Wyoming. And second, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has delayed a planned update to its wolf management plan.

The legislative effort is being led by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.). A draft of the bill was being circulated last week. Several members of Congress expressed a desire to co-sponsor the bill, including Reps. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
"Wisconsin's wolf population has significantly recovered over the last several decades, and I am confident in our state's ability to manage the population," Ribble said. "I am pursuing a bipartisan legislative fix that will allow the Great Lakes states to continue the effective work they are doing in managing wolf populations without tying the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service or undermining the Endangered Species Act."

The bill likely would be similar to 2011 legislation that removed Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf in Idaho and Montana and allowed state wildlife managers to implement hunting and trapping programs.

To increase the bill's odds of passing, supporters would like to attach it to another piece of legislation. The 2011 bill was folded into an appropriations measure.

The executive council of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation supports such congressional action. The council passed a resolution Dec. 29 calling for Congress to "enact legislation directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue its 2011 rule removing the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list in the states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin and to provide that such rule is not subject to any judicial review."

According to the draft, the bill would seek to restore state management of wolves in Wisconsin,
Michigan and Minnesota. Sources in Washington said it might also include Wyoming, where the wolf is also under protections of the Endangered Species Act.

A bill could be introduced in early February, according to staffers on Capitol Hill. As of last week, no U.S. senator had stepped forward to start a companion bill.

Closer to home, the DNR has delayed a scheduled update to its wolf management plan.

Dave MacFarland, DNR large carnivore specialist, said the federal ruling "altered the timeline of our wolf management plan efforts."

"We still intend to proceed, but will not be holding public hearings this month nor will we present the plan to the (Natural Resources Board) in April," MacFarland said Thursday. "We do not yet have an updated timeline but hope to soon."
The DNR is still working on the revised plan, MacFarland said, and hopes to have a "draft available in the next few months." The plan has not been updated since 1999. It called for a population goal of 350 wolves.

After two seasons of regulated hunting and trapping, Wisconsin had at least 660 wolves in late winter 2013-'14, down from an estimated high of 834 in 2012, according to the DNR. The population roughly doubles after pups are born in spring, then begins to decline due to various sources of mortality.

A wide range of people and organizations interested in wolf management are awaiting release of the agency's updated plan.