Only Fed Hearing on Removing Wolf from Endangered Species List Held in Brainerd

The comeback of the gray wolf in Minnesota and the rest of its range in the lower 48 states should be one of the Endangered Species Act’s greatest success stories. Instead, the predator continues to generate largely negative coverage tied to the creature’s growing impact on ranchers, farmers and rural communities in the wake of a  2014 federal court order prohibiting state management through limited hunting.

Recently the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the government’s latest plan to remove all gray wolves from endangered protections, returning control to the states that have in effect  overseen the animal’s remarkable recovery.

We propose this action because the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the currently listed entities do not meet the definitions of a threatened species or endangered species under the Act due to recovery. The effect of this rule-making action would be to remove the gray wolf from the Act’s protections.

The proposal has generated more than 650,000 comments since its posting in March. That intensity was also on display recently in Brainerd at the only public hearing the feds held on the issue anywhere in the country. More than 80 speakers from several states lined up to speak before a full house in the Franklin Arts Center, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

A former teacher of Tracy, Minnesota, and liaison for hunting political advocacy group Big Game Forever, John Coulter said expanding wolf populations are wreaking havoc on cattle ranches, homesteads and gaming preserves throughout the continental United States.

“Consider the economic impact of wolves on people in western United States, northern Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Coulter said. “It’s devastating to portions of the western United States and it’s detrimental to hunting. I’m concerned. You’re playing with people’s lives here. We’re not here to wipe the wolf out, that’s impossible. We’re here talking about balance.”

Sportsmen’s groups made the case that wolf populations need to be managed in order to protect competing species.

Don Paey, representing a consortium of sports interests from Salt Lake City, Utah, said the federal government should honor its agreement to delist wolves once they reached their population thresholds, instead of tying the hands of organizations out west that has led to a 70%-90% reduction in some deer, elk and moose herds and the loss of millions in state revenue.

“Let’s keep our word. All of us. We made an agreement, (the wolves) reached the objective, let’s delist them,” Paey said. “Let the states manage it. Let’s protect the herds.”

Scientific surveys put the overall gray wolf population at some 6,000 today, well above the original goals for the animal’s recovery set back in 1978. But environmentalists refuse to accept the science.

Dan Iverson, a lifelong Minnestoan and self-described avid deer hunter and fisherman, criticized what he deemed a failure by many landowners and hunters to coexist with wolves. Instead, he said, people often blame wolves for their own inability to effectively hunt, fish, farm and run businesses in the environments these activities depend on

“They’re talking about 4,500 wolves across millions upon millions of acres and calling that ‘overpopulation,’” Iverson said. “They’re not overpopulated. I think the federal agencies are misguided in their approach … I don’t think these populations are unreasonable. Go to Wisconsin for deer. There are droves and droves of them. Wisconsin needs more wolves, not less.”

It’s not clear when the Trump Administration plans to promulgate the final rule removing the gray wolf from federal ESA protection. Whenever that happens, however, it’s clear that environmentalists will once again turn to the courts for protection of their own interests, if not necessarily those of the gray wolf.