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February 23, 2018

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Legislation at the federal level has failed to gain the momentum needed to get the wolf delisted and to keep the courts out of a decision many believe should be made through science rather than as a matter of law or public opinion. Some hope the current legislation in the state Senate (SB602) and Assembly (AB712) will force the hand that keeps control at the federal level.
contributed photograph

Legislation at the federal level has failed to gain the momentum needed to get the wolf delisted and to keep the courts out of a decision many believe should be made through science rather than as a matter of law or public opinion. Some hope the current legislation in the state Senate (SB602) and Assembly (AB712) will force the hand that keeps control at the federal level.
2/3/2018 7:29:00 AM
Fate of 'wolf bill' still undecided

Beckie Gaskill
Outdoors Writer


The fight to delist the wolf in Wisconsin has been a long and arduous one. Legislation at the federal level has failed to gain the momentum needed to get the wolf delisted and to keep the courts out of a decision many believe should be made through science rather than as a matter of law or public opinion. Those who wish for the state to have control over wolf populations, such as Representative Adam Jarchow, say the citizens of Wisconsin continue to suffer livestock depredations, depredation of pets and, at times, even threats to humans as the wolf population rises.

There are few groups who would not concede that wolf populations have recovered in Wisconsin, with the DNR's winter minimum population estimates being over 900 animals and 230 packs. This number can double or more in the spring when pups are born. Payments for depredations have increased as the population of wolves has increased. Yet still, wolves remain on the endangered species list with no control given to the state to manage their numbers.

Some hope the current legislation in the state Senate (SB602) and Assembly (AB712) will force the hand that keeps control at the federal level. Indeed, in 20111 Governor Butch Otter of Idaho expedited that state's pleas by signing an executive order to cease enforcement of federal laws regarding the gray wolf in that state. This order was the impetus behind a rider on the April 2011 budget bill to delist the wolf in that state, returning management control to the state level. The hope for SB602 and AB712 is the same result.

The bill would would prohibit state law enforcement officers from "knowingly attempt(ing) to enforce a federal or state law that relates to the management of the wolf population in this state or that prohibits the killing of wolves in this state." It goes further to say neither the department nor its staff may "take any action to inform or support federal law enforcement officers regarding the enforcement of any federal or state law relating to wolves."

As with any wolf-related issue, there are two camps: those who believe wolf management should return to the state and those who believe federal control and continued listing is in the best interest of the wolf.



'With success comes responsibility'

Public hearings were held in January by both the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Foresty, and the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage. Written comments from several groups are available online from both of those hearings.

Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) called for the support of both committees, stating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was not designed to be used as a judicial shield with which to protect this animal, stating the wolf had overrun a swath of the state and endangered the lives of residents.

"The ESA can point to wolves as a success story," his correspondence reads, "But with success comes responsibility."

The ESA, he said, was designed to protect species that would not survive without intervention. "The gray wolf is no longer at that point of extinction. It has been recovered and it is time to write the final chapter of this success story."

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress, represented by Al Shook, asked the decision not be made based on misinformation.

"Since the Assembly Hearing last week there has been a lot of misinformation put out in the media," he said in his correspondence to the Senate committee. "This legislation does not turn a blind eye on someone who would illegally kill or "poach" wolves. It simply puts the burden of enforcing those issues on the federal wardens vs. state conservation wardens. The WCC is very supportive of ethical sporting activities and if this legislation didn't meet that standard, we would not be supporting it. Please don't allow misinformation to be part of any decision in this matter." He also expressed the Conservation Congress' frustration at still debating an issue they felt should have been resolved at the federal level long ago.

Not surprisingly, groups such as the Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States let their voices be heard against the bills and any thought of returning wolf management to the state level. The Sierra Club went so far as to say wolves were a limiting factor in the spread of CWD and could curtail the problem. Available research, however, has pointed to predators and scavengers (including birds) as possible carriers of the CWD prion, who could then deposit those prions in other areas in their excrement.

The Wisconsin Bowhunters Association felt there may be some unintended consequences of the bill. While the organization supports the intent of the bill, it feels some provisions may have an effect contrary to that intent.

In a letter submitted by Ralph Fritsch, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation expressed some concern over the bill. It cautioned the committee the bill could be seen by anti-delisting groups as proof the state could not be trusted to protect wolves when they were delisted.

"Our bottom line on this bill is that this Legislature should not take action that will provide ammunition to the Humane Society of the United States and other similar groups," the letter reads.

Wisconsin Green Fire - Voices for Conservation said it understands the wolf is recovered in Wisconsin. The group also believes "the state has a science-based wolf management plan and skilled conservation staff to implement this plan for a healthy and sustainable wolf population." With the passing of this legislation, their worry would be that all "activities to gather population and distribution information would have to stop."

There was also a concern the state would no longer be working with USDA Wildlife Services to create depredation maps to alert landowners to potential problems. The organization does not believe SB602 or AB712 will spur Congress or the USFWS to take any delisting action, such as has happened in Idaho.

Another concern, they said, would be the affects on the re-introduced elk populations. Without state-level monitoring, it would be difficult to know what depredation was taking place on those herds due to wolves. Adrian Wydeven, representing the Timber Wolf Alliance, echoed some of those concerns. He pointed to a successful monitoring program that has been in place since 1979 and said he did not want to lose track of that and the data it provides.

Wisconsin Independent Businesses, Inc. - Agri-Business Coalition was in favor of the bill in both houses.

"Wisconsin farmers are suffering the consequences of this federal inaction. Confirmed and probable wolf depredations of livestock continue to rise," they wrote. "Verified wolf harassment or threats to livestock are increasing as well. In the absence of state-based wolf management, more livestock will be killed, threatened or harassed by wolves in 2018 and beyond. Wisconsin's wolf population needs to be properly managed at the state level and that requires federal government approval. The provisions of the 2017 Senate Bill 602 are patterned after the actions taken by the State of Idaho to regain its authority to manage its wolf population. We hope passage of this legislation will produce the same outcome for the State of Wisconsin."

Adam Jarchow also signaled his approval of the bills, pointing to the success had by Idaho in their plight to have wolf management returned to their state.

"In 2011, Idaho Governor Butch Otter issues an executive order to cease enforcement of federal laws regarding the gray wolf. The wolf was quickly delisted and wolf management reverted to the state without federal interference. Wisconsin needs to send a similarly strong message to the federal government. Senate Bill 602 will be the impetus for affecting positive change in our state," he wrote.

As of this writing, the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage has passed AB712 out of the committee.

The Senate version, SB602, however, remains in committee.

The senate committee would have to hold an executive session regarding the bill and that session has yet to be scheduled.

According to Representative Joel Kleefisch's office, the next possible time the Assembly would be in session would be the middle of February. There is a possibility the bill could be presented in that session, they said.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at bgaskill@lakelandtimes.com.



Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, February 4, 2018
Article comment by: Jim Perry

I was under the impression that the number of "incidents" with wolves had actually declined in 2017. Legislators with limited knowledge or no knowledge should return to the process used when WI was a national natural resource leader and let data and science drive the decision, and also put pressure on federal legislators to delist the wolf.



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