This fall would have brought the fourth consecutive trophy wolf hunt in Minnesota but for a federal court ruling last December placing Minnesota (and Great Lakes) wolves back on the federal endangered species list. While this put Minnesota’s trophy wolf hunting in pause mode, it’s not the end of the story.
Already, federal legislation to reverse that court ruling was introduced last summer in Washington, D.C. The language in these bills would entirely remove federal protection of wolves in the Great Lakes region (which includes Minnesota) and Wyoming, leaving them open to state-sanctioned, recreational “trophy” hunts — including cruel snaring and trapping — and other catastrophic policies.
In essence, it’s a formula for extinction of wolves.
Wolves continue to need federal protection; their recovery must be supported by the states’ agencies. Recently, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced its annual wolf population survey numbers. Almost 100 wolf packs (25 percent) were eliminated from 2014 to early 2015 in Minnesota, and our wolf population is now down to nearly 1988 levels.
Protecting wolves is difficult because they don’t have a history of value. They have a history of persecution. Thus, even having wolves placed on the endangered species list was a major struggle.
Thankfully, Minnesota’s wolves are the first mammal to be placed on the federal endangered species list and the only wolf population in the Lower 48 states that never went extinct, thanks to the federal law.
For wolves to survive into the future, we need to maximize their genetic diversity rather than continue the policies of arbitrarily setting a number that we think is enough for the short term. Wolves in the wild face many threats to their existence; killing by humans is the biggest.
We have much to do to prepare our state to recover wolves responsibly. This includes changing human attitudes.
We have seen that when federal protection is removed, the policy decisions of the states do not recover wolves. In fact, all states where wolves lost federal protections have implemented reckless wolf killing through trophy hunts and harsh lethal methods. These policies are often made hastily, without solid, scientifically based input or an understanding of their effects.
If our Minnesota wolves did not have federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, we most likely would have another state-sponsored, recreational wolf trophy hunt. This unpopular, unnecessary and reckless policy has little to do with scientific management or the popular will of Minnesotans.
Sound science and ethical stewardship should guide species protection policies. This will be the only way to truly ensure “the long-term survival of the wolf” not just in Minnesota, but nationally.
Howling For Wolves continues to work to keep wolves federally protected through actions in Washington and locally. We are supported by several federal lawmakers who have committed to working on behalf of the wolf. Our own Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, along with Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Gary Peters of Michigan, understand that wolves need protection and that states need better wolf policies. So do 23 other senators who signed a letter to President Obama last week urging him to protect the Endangered Species Act and the gray wolf.
Wolves are important to our state’s ecology, our state’s heritage and our state’s people. We need to make sure they’re around for future generations.
Maureen Hackett is president and founder of Howling For Wolves, a Minnesota-based wolf advocacy organization.