The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove the eastern population of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List and turn over wolf management to state control. But not everyone thinks the states are up for it. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove the eastern population
of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List and turn over wolf management
to state control. But not everyone thinks the states are up for it. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Katherine Glover has the story:
(sound of wolves howling)
The image of the wolf has always had a powerful effect on people. Wolves seem dangerous,
mysterious, romantic. They are a symbol of the untamed wilderness. Before Europeans came
to America, wolves roamed freely on every part of the continent. In 1630, the colony of
Massachussetts Bay started paying bounties to settlers for killing wolves. Over the next
300 years, wolf killing spread across the country, until all that was left was a few small
pockets of surviving wolf packs.
When the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, the only wolves left to protect in the
Midwest were in Northern Minnesota. By some estimates, there were as few as 350 of them.
Today, Minnesota has a healthy wolf population of around 2400 animals, and smaller populations
are growing in Wisconsin and Michigan. Becaue of this success, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
has proposed removing the animals from the Endangered Species List. This would mean wolves would
no longer be federally protected – it would be up to the states.
(sound of gate opening)
Peggy Callagan works with captive wolves at the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota. She’s the
Center’s co-founder and executive director. She and her staff research ways to minimize
conflicts between wolves and people. Callahan is looking forward to seeing the wolf taken off
the Endangered Species List.
“It’s a good thing for the Endangered Species Act, to take a wolf off or an eagle off or a
peregrine off when it has recovered. The act was not established to provide a permanent
hiding place. It was established to protect a species until such time that they could be
managed in a different way.”
Wisconsin and Michigan have wolves because young born in Minnesota have migrated east to start
their own packs. Callahan says how Minnesota manages its wolves will affect wolf numbers in the
Midwest. And she isn’t crazy about Minnesota’s current wolf management plan, which has different
rules for different parts of the state.
“Now, there’s a boundary; there’s a boundary called a wolf zone, and there’s a boundary that’s
called the ag zone. And nobody likes it. We went backward.”
In Northeastern Minnesota, where the majority of wolves are, landowners can only kill wolves
if they can demonstrate an immediate threat to pets or livestock. In the rest of the state, where
there is more agriculture and more people, the rules are more lenient. On their own property,
landowners can kill any wolf they feel is a danger, without having to prove anything to the state.
The Sierra Club is opposed to taking the wolf off the Endangered Species list, largely because
of Minnesota’s management plan. Ginny Yinling is the chair of the Wolf Task Force of the Sierra
Club in Minnesota.
“They’ve pretty much given carte blanche to landowners, or their agents, to kill wolves
pretty much at any time in the southern and western two thirds of the state; they don’t even
have to have an excuse, if a wolf’s on their property they can kill it. Instead of this being
what should have been a victory in terms of wolf recovery and the success of the Endangered
Species Act, instead we’re afraid it’s going to turn into something of a disaster.”
Yinling is also concerned with the protection of wolf habitat, such as den sites, rendezvous
sites, and migration corridors.
“The current management plan protects none of those areas; it leaves it entirely up to the
discretion of the land managers.”
But wildlife managers say these are not critical for a large wolf population
like Minnesota’s. Mike DonCarlos is the wildlife program manager for the Minnesota
Department of Natural Resources.
“As you look at the range of species that are threatened by habitat change, ironically the wolf
in Minnesota is not one of them. As long as there’s a prey base that continues, wolves should
do just fine. The key is mortality rates and availability of food.”
In Wisconsin and Michigan, where there are fewer wolves, state laws will continue to protect
wolf habitat. Peggy Callahan says she has faith that the wolves will be fine, even if the
Minnesota state plan is not perfect. But at the Sierra Club, Ginny Yinling says they have
plans to challenge wolf delisting in court.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Katherine Glover.