Action needed on wolf issue sooner rather than later

posted Nov. 20, 2017 9:33 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Heidi Clausen, Regional Editor |

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It’s your move, feds.

For several years now, Wisconsin farmers and others have been waiting on the federal government to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List. A bill proposed this month by northern Wisconsin legislators applies some pressure — many would say long overdue — on regulators to do just that.

Republican lawmakers from northern Wisconsin have put forth a bill that would cut off the state’s efforts to manage Wisconsin’s growing wolf population and block game wardens and police from enforcing any federal or state law related to the management of the wolf population in Wisconsin or that prohibits the killing of wolves in this state. Law enforcement would, in effect, have to ignore wolf killings.

Also, the state Department of Natural Resources would be prohibited from spending any money to manage wolves, other than to reimburse people for wolf-induced losses, and the agency couldn’t communicate with federal authorities about enforcing wolf management laws or support federal enforcement efforts.

For all intents and purposes, this measure would incapacitate the federal government’s wolf program in Wisconsin. That is, unless the Trump administration removes the controversial creatures from the Endangered Species List. In that case, this bill, offered Nov. 8 by state Reps. Adam Jarchow, Mary Felzkowski and Romaine Quinn, along with Sen. Tom Tiffany, would be irrelevant.

In all likelihood, the bill, which may seem a bit extreme, won’t pass; it’s really more about calling attention to a matter that just doesn’t seem to get resolved without a heavy-handed approach and trying to force the feds to move on pending legislation to remove wolves from the Endangered Species List. A bill that would remove wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Wyoming from the list is languishing in the U.S. Senate, yet to be voted on.

More than a year ago, Jarchow, who lives in Balsam Lake, and Tiffany, from Hazelhurst, co-hosted the Great Lakes Wolf Summit in Cumberland to bring attention to the worsening wolf problem in northern Wisconsin. The conference hall was standing room only, and several people testified about how confirmed and threatened wolf attacks have had detrimental effects on their lives and businesses.

It was heartbreaking to hear their stories. Ashland County shepherds Paul and Judy Canik said they discovered almost 20 of their ewes dead or near-dead in the pasture one day — the victims of wolf depredation. One can only imagine how distressing that would be. Wolves are said to be living within the cities of Superior and Duluth, Minn. The wolf population has recovered, and people need to be able to protect themselves.

In a memo to colleagues seeking co-sponsors for their new bill, legislators said wolves “have taken over northern Wisconsin” by depredating the deer population, killing livestock and attacking family pets.

Naturally, wolf advocacy groups were quick to criticize the measure. The Endangered Species Coalition, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition and Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife issued a joint statement the next day saying that the bill would legalize wolf poaching at a level that could erase the animals from the Wisconsin landscape. They called the bill “an affront to the majority of Wisconsin citizens who support this species.”

You may recall that the Obama administration removed Great Lakes wolves from the Endangered Species List five years ago, allowing Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota to take over managing the animals. Wisconsin held three wolf hunting seasons, much to the dismay of animal rights advocates who argued that the population was too fragile to support hunting. Wolf hunting was short-lived, as, in 2014, a federal judge placed Great Lakes wolves back on the Endangered Species List, ending wolf trapping and hunting and preventing farmers from killing wolves that attack their stock.

Wisconsin’s wolf population has exploded since then. According to state Department of Natural Resources data released this summer, between 925 and 952 wolves roamed the state last winter. That’s up from 866 to 897 wolves the previous winter. Online DNR records show that, so far this year, there have been 39 confirmed wolf attacks on hunting dogs, cattle, sheep and a pet dog. The agency recorded 76 confirmed wolf attacks in 2016.

Jarchow said the only real solution to the problem is for Congress to return wolf management to individual states by passing a bill to remove the wolf from the Endangered Species List. The bipartisan bill introduced in the new Congress has made some progress, but, he said, it hasn’t progressed fast enough for his liking.

“The hope is for this bill to pressure Congress to do its job and pass a bill delisting the wolf so Wisconsin can once again responsibly manage its own wolf population,” Jarchow said. “If Congress won’t act, Wisconsin will.”

We don’t want an open season on wolves; they can play a key role in the Wisconsin ecosystem if their population is responsibly managed. But we also can’t let numbers get out of hand and fail to arm farmers and other residents with protective measures. The federal government owes it to northern Wisconsin to make a move on the wolf issue, and they need to move sooner rather than later. This bill could help things along.

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