Political Matters: Native Issues in the Halls of Government


De-listing the wolf

The American Prospect’s March 13 issue featured a 5,500-word story about the killing of wolves in the Northern Rockies. "Wolves to the Slaughter," by Christopher Ketcham, recounts the history of the reintroduction of gray wolves to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.

The effort to bring wolves back to this region of the American West followed decades of depredations against the species. The wolf, Ketcham writes, was "shot, trapped, poisoned with strychnine, fed glass shards stuffed in bait, its pups asphyxiated by fires set in their dens. By 1935, the gray wolf had disappeared almost entirely from the U.S."

However, the situation changed with the rise of the environmental movement in the 1970s. "The evidence suggested that the loss of the wolves had destabilized the ecology of the Northern Rockies," Ketcham recounts. "Following the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service undertook the recovery of the wolf in the region."

To summarize Ketcham’s long story of humans and wolves, whose numbers rebounded in the West, "following a series of lawsuits and an unprecedented intervention by Congress, canis lupus was removed from the endangered species list," in April 2011. On Jan. 27, wolves in the western Great Lakes states lost federal protection.

As articles by Winona LaDuke and Minnesota Public Radio in the last edition of The Circle noted, wolves are under threat in Minnesota. In fact, on April 28, the Minnesota Legislature passed a game and fish bill that establishes a hunting season for wolves. The proposal was based on a 2001 study by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and sets the initial hunting quota at 400 wolves.

If Gov. Mark Dayton signs the bill, the hunting season for wolves would begin on Nov. 24. A similar proposal was signed into law by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; the wolf killing season in the Dairy State could begin in October.

There are reportedly 2,600 to 3,000 wolves in Minnesota. "There’s been a pent-up enthusiasm, a pent-up demand to hunt wolves," Ed Boggess, Minnesota DNR director of fish and wildlife, told a legislative committee in January, according to a story posted on the website of the Timber Wolf Information Network (timberwolfinformation.org).

Boggess’ phrase "was echoed by lawmakers representing both the north woods, where wolf populations are the highest in the state, and those hailing from rural northwestern agricultural areas, where farmers have previously had to call in the government to deal with instances of a wolf killing livestock."

But my friend Howard Goldman, Minnesota senior state director of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has cautioned that the state is acting precipitously in sanctioning a wolf hunt this year.

For one thing, Goldman has said that the wolf has not recovered across the U.S., and occupies only 5 percent of its historic range.

Regarding the wolf and domesticated livestock, Goldman recently told the Midwest Wolf Stewards Conference in Duluth that Minnesota recorded 91 cows and calves were killed by wolves in 2011 – out of 165,000 cattle in prime wolf territory.

The Minnesota figure on wolf predation was compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) wildlife services, Goldman told me. The cattle losses attributed to wolves amounts to .05 percent of the cattle in wolf territory, which Goldman terms "a very manageable figure."

At the conference committee hearing that approved the state’s omnibus game and fish bill in late April, Goldman said that a letter from Floyd Jourdain, Jr., chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, to Tom Landwehr, Minnesota DNR commissioner, was distributed to the conferees. In the March 14 letter, Jourdain complains that Minnesota failed to consult with tribal officials before creating the wolf hunting season. He states in the letter to Landwehr: "The lack of tribal consultation regarding the state’s pending hunting and trapping season appears to be in direct contrast to directives issued in Governor Pawlenty’s Executive Order 03-05 (and reaffirmed by Governor Dayton in Executive Order 11-08). Consultation with Tribes on current legislation and proposed regulations has not occurred; at the agency level, or at the government-to-government level."

The letter goes on to inform the DNR head that "Red Lake lands will be managed as a wolf sanctuary. Red Lake published its management plan in 2010, and actively solicited input from the state of Minnesota during development of that plan…. We are disappointed that the state of Minnesota and the Minnesota DNR have not followed suit, and have apparently ignored directives to do so."