WASHINGTON – In Minnesota, gray wolves are at their highest population since the 1950s, yet activists take issue with removing the animals from the endangered species list without a concrete plan.
With Republicans in the House and Senate moving to delist the wolves in Minnesota, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Michigan, some advocacy groups are making a final push to keep the animals protected.
This includes the Minnesota-based group Howling For Wolves, which has spent $20,000 lobbying in Washington this year to keep wolves on the list.
Six decades ago, Minnesota's wolf population fell to a record low of 750. However, the most recent count by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources puts the number at upward of 2,400.
Longtime wolf activist Collette Adkins, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said wolves are doing well in Minnesota, but not everywhere. She said that wolf populations are just re-emerging in other regions of the country and that Minnesota wolves will migrate.
"We only have 5 percent of their historic range," she said. "We used to have wolves ranging the Lower 48 and we're not asking for wolves in downtown Chicago, but there are lots of places where wolves could recover and they're not recovered. We'd like to see continued recovery efforts before they are removed from the list."
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has been outspoken about delisting the gray wolves since December, when a U.S. District Court put them back on the endangered list in Minnesota and the Great Lakes area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously had delisted them in 2012.
Peterson wrote in January that with the animals back on the list, "Farmers and ranchers in my district now face an immediate legal predicament between protecting their livestock from predatory gray wolves and complying with yet another overreaching federal judicial decision."
The legislation to delist the gray wolves is part of a larger bill. The delisting language would bar the rule from being subjected to judicial review, meaning it couldn't be overruled by a future judge. Brett Hartl, a Washington-based endangered species policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said it's common for Congress to slip smaller items like this into big bills.
Julia Krahe, a spokeswoman for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement that Klobuchar supports delisting the gray wolf.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., didn't take a definite stance on delisting, but noted in a statement that rural Minnesotans are rightfully worried about wolf attacks on livestock and pets.