Animal protection and environmental advocates in Minnesota and nationally have informed federal regulators that they would accept a reduced level of protection for wolves in order to avert a congressional effort to remove all protections for the species.
The position, spelled out this week in a petition led by the Humane Society of the United States, asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act as “threatened.” If adopted, it would mean that wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere couldn’t be hunted, but the animals could be killed under federal guidelines to protect livestock and solve other conflicts.
Maureen Hackett, president and founder of Minnesota-based Howling for Wolves, said her organization supports the petition as a way to deal with members of Congress who are preparing legislation to undo a Dec. 19 federal court decision that restored certain federal protections for wolves and ended short-lived wolf hunting and trapping in Upper Great Lakes states.
“We think it’s a good compromise,” said Hackett, whose group wants to ensure an end to recreational killing of wolves as part of state wildlife management plans.
She said across-the-board “threatened” status for wolves would keep them under federal jurisdiction.
Last month’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell threw out an Obama administration decision to “delist” wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and Wyoming. That decision had paved the way for hunting and trapping seasons that began in 2012.
Under Howell’s decision, wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin reverted to virtually untouchable “endangered” status, while Minnesota’s wolves reverted to “threatened” status.
If all gray wolves in the country were listed as “threatened,” the petitioners would be accepting the down-listing of “endangered” wolves, which can’t be killed for predation control.
“It’s an effort to introduce a compromise or middle ground,” said Jodi Habush, lawyer for Midwest Environmental Advocates of Madison, Wis. “We don’t need a legislative fix while we have this available.”
Habush said advocates believe it’s worth going along with the killing of problem wolves to keep Congress from making broader changes to the Endangered Species Act. If legislators succeed at delisting wolves, she said, what species would be next?
“It could unravel one of the most valued environmental laws of our time,” Habush said.
Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., is leading the effort to restore hunting and trapping of gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Co-sponsors include Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who has said he is working to line up support from other lawmakers.
According to estimates by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2,423 gray wolves roam the northern regions of the state. In 2014, state hunters and trappers killed 272 of the animals.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet said if it will appeal the judge’s ruling.