Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Evidence supports protections for gray wolves

Nancy Warren


                                                                                              Nancy Warren
In 1978, the Minnesota gray wolf was federally classified as “threatened,” allowing government agents to kill wolves in response to conflicts with livestock or dogs. It is no different today.

The Great Lakes states were given full authority to oversee wolf management in January 2012. However, this decision was reversed in December 2014, returning wolves to the 1978 protection level.

The court ruled, in its 111-page decision, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately explain the impact of combined mortality factors such as disease and human takings or why territory suitable for gray wolf population is not a significant part of the species’ range or why hunting wolves in Minnesota is not a threat to the species.

Minnesota’s wolf plan was developed in part through recommendations developed by representatives of environmental, agricultural, hunting, trapping and wolf-advocacy organizations, utilizing biological, sociological, cultural and economic data.

The plan included a wolf-hunt moratorium for five years following delisting, but the Minnesota Legislature, swayed by the sentiments of misguided individuals, removed that safeguard in 2011.

Even though wolf populations remained stable and the hunting and trapping of wolves was not scientifically sound, Minnesota implemented a wolf hunting and trapping season immediately upon delisting. During each of the first three years under state control, the kill quotas established by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were exceeded, resulting in 923 wolves killed by trophy hunters and trappers, most on public lands and in prime wolf habitat.

Despite rhetoric from politicians, livestock losses caused by wolves are low, especially when compared to other causes of livestock mortality. Livestock producers are not required to implement best management practices, nor are they required to implement nonlethal measures that may minimize losses by wolves. Yet producers are compensated for any loss caused by wolves, and action is taken to kill the offending wolves. Last year, USDA employees killed 220 wolves. Since 2012, 955 wolves have been killed because of conflicts.

Wolves have reached the numeric goals for delisting. However, wolves face many known threats, including human intolerance, illegal killings, disease, parasites, natural mortality and lethal control.
Still unknown is the role climate change may play in disease and prey density. Taken individually, each of these threats may not cause the wolf to become endangered. But collectively, the impact could be substantial. That is why the court ruled appropriately to restore protections for the wolf in the Great Lakes region.

Nancy Warren is executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition in Duluth (wolfwatcher.org).

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