It's a fragile restoration for wolves

  • Article by: HOWARD GOLDMAN
  • Updated: October 17, 2012 - 7:31 PM

The hunting season betrays a compromise and is ill-advised.

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A gray wolf rests in tall grass.

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, AP

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Wolves are not another "game species."

Wolves are a storied part of our northern heritage -- the living symbol of wilderness.

They are an apex predator. They have a role in our environment, and they are complex social creatures with a burning desire to live.

Once, ranchers and hunters all but drove wolves to extinction. And now, thanks to misguided political gamesmanship, there is another assault on these noble creatures now that they have been removed from the list of federally protected species.

Most Minnesotans don't want wolves to be hunted, any more than they want eagles to be shot. More than 75 percent of respondents to a Department of Natural Resources survey taken earlier this year opposed the season that is scheduled to commence Nov. 3.

Residents here know all too well that Minnesota's wolf restoration is fragile. These animals all but disappeared, and it took 38 years for the population to recover.

I was a member of the Natural Resources Department wolf roundtable that met in 1998. The working group included hunters, trappers, farmers, livestock producers, tribal organizations, environmental and animal-welfare groups. One very important element of the final plan was the agreement that there would be no public taking of wolves for five years after their population was removed from the federal endangered-species list.

Yet, here we are less than a year from the delisting of the Great Lakes wolf population, and a public hunting season is scheduled.

What changed? During the government shutdown of 2011, the compromise five-year wait was stripped away by the Legislature. The State Capitol building was closed to the public when the final language was approved.

This is no proper foundation for hunting advocates to resume their shooting of wolves.

This week the Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals asked the state of Minnesota as well as neighboring Wisconsin to postpone wolf hunting and trapping, because their wolf management plans are too severe. These groups served notice that they will file suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore federal protections for the Great Lakes wolves.

A few facts -- the wolf population has been stable since 1998 without hunting or trapping. The last Minnesota population survey was completed in 2007, and it established a population range from 2,100 to 3,500 wolves. This year, 400 wolves are expected to be killed during the scheduled season. Another 300 will be killed legally under livestock depredation controls, plus an estimated 300 more will be killed illegally.

Sound science tells us that this total of 1,000 wolves may very well put the whole population in jeopardy. Just as happened in the past. The best contemporary biology tells us that killing more than 30 percent of the population is the "tipping point." Have we learned nothing in the last half-century?

Some make the argument that killing wolves is necessary to protect cattle ranchers. Last year, only 91 cows or calves were killed by wolves. Each was verified by government inspectors. That's less than 1 percent of the 165,000 cows and calves living in wolf territory. Ranchers receive market-rate compensation for losses.

Under state management guidelines, ranchers can now legally shoot a wolf threatening their farm animals and pets. Government-approved trappers are also authorized to kill depredating wolves. And more than 250 have been killed so far this year.

If depredations are not the basis for a hunt, why kill wolves? This is a sport season, pure and simple. Recreational killing.

One of the wonders of the 21st century is that we have learned anew to live with wolves, and that's the way it should remain. We must respect them and appreciate the vital ecological role they play. It's wrong and reckless to repeat our mistakes of the past, especially when so many creatures' lives hang in the balance.

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Howard Goldman is Minnesota state director of the Humane Society of the United States. The Opinion section is launching a newsletter this fall. Please sign up here.

 

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