In 1973, the gray wolf was brought under the full protection of the Federal Endangered Species Act when only 500 to 1000 animals remained in the wild and only in the state of Minnesota. This was mostly due to legal, year-round hunting and trapping which accounted for the killing of around 200 wolves a year. In addition, another 50 to 100 fell victim each year to a bounty offered by the state for the pelts of wolves killed in agricultural areas as part of Minnesota’s Directed Predator Control Program. With the granting of endangered species protection, wolves could no longer be legally killed in Minnesota. In 1978, with wolf populations making a comeback, the Minnesota wolf was down listed from endangered to ”threatened”. Only federal and state government personnel were allowed to kill wolves in response to rancher’s complains of confirmed livestock killings by wolves. In addition, illegal killings have continued in the state and some estimate that 250 to 450 wolves are killed secretly in Minnesota every year. Despite the illegal killings and governmental controls, wolf populations have grown under ESA protection. It is estimated that there are around 2500 wolves living in Minnesota today.
In neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan, it is estimated that around 200 wolves exist in each state. In the summer of 1998, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Jamie Rappaport Clark announced that the FWS would begin regulatory action to “de-list” or take away the ESA status of the wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan and return management to the individual states.
Sadly for the wolves, state legislatures and state departments of natural resources have not changed their feelings about wolves in the past 27 years. As expected, last year the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill (H.F. 1415) that would legalize hunting and trapping of wolves and give livestock owners almost unrestricted license to shoot wolves found on their property. A more moderate (but hardly pro-wolf) Senate bill (S.F. 1543) was shelved by its sponsor after it was amended to further loosen restrictions on landowner killing of wolves.
Why the hostility towards wolves? FWS reports that between 1991 and 1997 Minnesota farmers lost only 67 cattle, 25 sheep, and 578 turkeys each year to wolves. This is hardly an economic hardship for the state. By comparison, U.S. farmers lost approximately 4.3 million cattle and calves from all causes in 1995; 4.2 million of these died for reasons other than predation. It is important to add here that there are no records of healthy North American wolves harming humans since the ESA protection was instituted. The real drivers of these anti-wolf policies are prejudice, ignorance, and illogical fear.
What can you do?
Write to Gov. Jesse Ventura and tell him that as a “new breed of politician”, he should oppose any legislation that allows wolf hunting or trapping, the killing of wolves by landowners, or wolf bounties and demand a wolf policy based on humaneness and respect for the wolf. Encourage the use of good animal husbandry and non-lethal management to prevent livestock depredation.
Bob DeFranco is an animal behavior therapist, executive director of the Animal Behavior Center of New York and president of the American Foundation for Animal Rescue, Inc. in Queens. Watch him on Pet Talk Live, Saturdays at 8:30 PM on Channel 34 in Queens and listen to him on the new radio talk show It’s About Animals on NewsTalk 1050 WEVD AM on Saturdays at 9:00 PM. Questions or comments? Write P.O. Box 7623, Rego Park, NY 11374 or e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org