DULUTH, Minn. -- Wolves across the Great Lakes region will remain under federal Endangered Species Act protections under the massive $1.1 trillion compromise budget legislation now moving in Congress.
The provision that would have removed federal coverage and handed wolf management back to state wildlife agencies was left out at the last moment as the 2,000-page bill was finalized early Wednesday.
That means wolves in the region will remain off limits to hunting and trapping, as ordered by a federal judge exactly one year ago.
Critics of higher wolf populations want to hand management back to the states to reduce their numbers, saying the animal has fully recovered under goals set in the 1970s.
But wolf supporters say wolves should be allowed to expand in number and range, into other states, before being declared recovered.
"Wolf delisting had no basis in science and couldn't hold water in court," said Collette Adkins, a Minnesota attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "That rider was an ugly political ploy that would have ended with thousands more dead wolves at the hands of state wildlife managers. We're overjoyed that the rider was defeated."
Wolves in Wyoming also will remain federally protected.
Wolf supporters say it's still possible a change in wolf management could pass on its own in Congress, but that it's unlikely, especially with 2016 an election year.
The budget agreement also includes a host of other environmental and natural resources provisions that reflect tradeoffs between Republicans and Democrats, including:
- Another $300 million for Great Lakes restoration projects, part of the ongoing effort to clean up polluted hotspots across the Great Lakes, restore habitat and bring back fish and wildlife populations. During the past five years, several of those projects have been in the Duluth-Superior harbor along the St. Louis River estuary.
- Help for local communities to prevent sewage contamination by funding the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at $1.39 billion nationally, about $510 million of which will be invested in the eight-state Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
- Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes fees from offshore oil and gas production to create national parks, purchase buffer zones around rivers and lakes, and provide matching grants for state and local projects.
"This budget sends a strong message that Great Lakes restoration remains a top priority for the nation. It keeps federal Great Lakes restoration efforts on track, and it benefits millions of people. We're glad to see that programs that are producing results around the region will continue," said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
The bill is surprisingly void of dozens of riders proposed by lawmakers to weaken environmental regulations, environmental groups said Wednesday.
"The final omnibus bill rejects more than 80 riders introduced to undermine the Endangered Species Act and our nation's commitment to wildlife and wildlands. These riders were part of one of the worst congressional attacks we've ever seen on endangered wildlife and the Endangered Species Act. Keeping these out of the omnibus bill is a major victory for wildlife," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.
The bill could pass the House and Senate yet this week and, if enough votes are secured as expected, avoids any government shutdown for the next 10 months.