A new study has found the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has underreported wolf poaching.
U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin are co-sponsors of legislation that would lift federal protections for gray wolves in the Midwest and Wyoming.
The other sponsors are John Barrasso and Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year in the U.S. House by Wisconsin Congressman Sean Duffy.
The aim of these lawmakers is to prevent courts from overruling a decision by the Interior Department to remove wolves in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan from the endangered species list.
In a news release, Johnson said, “I strongly agree with the feedback I’ve heard from Wisconsin stakeholders such as farmers, ranchers, loggers and sportsmen that future gray wolf listing decisions should come from wildlife experts, not from courtrooms.”
Baldwin said, “The Endangered Species Act plays a critical role in saving species from the brink of extinction, and when it does, we must acknowledge we have succeeded in restoring wildlife populations by delisting them. According to both federal and state wildlife biologists, this goal has been achieved with the gray wolf.”
She said she also heard “from farmers, sportsmen and wildlife experts, and they all agree. The wolf has recovered and we must return its management back to the state of Wisconsin, both for the safety and economic well-being of Wisconsinites and the balance of our environment.”
The news release said the senators’ measure would “allow wolf management plans that are based on federal and state wildlife expertise to move forward without any legal ambiguity.”
Those management plans allow the trapping and hunting of wolves, including using dogs in the “sport” in Wisconsin. In Wyoming, the management plan allows unlimited shoot-on-sight killing of wolves across 85 percent of the state.
“A new Congress has resurfaced an old vendetta against imperiled wolves,” said Marjorie Mulhall, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “If this legislation is signed into law, wolves in Wyoming will be subjected to unregulated killing across the vast majority of the state and even on the borders of Yellowstone National Park numerous legal loopholes will authorize widespread wolf killing.”
She continued, “We urge those who support the protection of wolves to call their senators and representatives and tell them to vote down this lethal legislation.”
On the Web
The House bill.
The Senate bill.
Wisconsin congressional delegation contacts.
Legislation was introduced on Jan. 10 in Congress to strip federal protections from wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming.
With language preventing any further judicial review, the bill would overrule two court decisions that found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly removed Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf.
“The new Congress is the most extreme and anti-wolf our country has ever seen, and members wasted no time in attacking endangered wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill promises to undo hard-earned progress toward gray wolf recovery that has taken years to achieve. Without federal protection hundreds of wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan will once again suffer and die every year.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes region — Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — in 2011 and in Wyoming in 2012.
Federal judges have overturned agency decisions for prematurely removing protections, failing to follow the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act and ignoring the best available science.
Since the 2011 passage of a rider abolishing wolf protections in the northern Rocky Mountains, there have been dozens of legislative attacks on wolves in Congress, according to the CBD. The bill introduced this week is the first introduced in the 115th Congress.
“Wolf recovery should be allowed to follow a course prescribed by science, not politics,” Adkins said. “This shameful meddling is harmful to wolves, harmful to science and harmful to our democratic processes.”
The bill has bipartisan sponsorship. It was introduced by U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Sean Duffy, R-Wis. and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Similar bills have passed the House but failed to clear the Senate and White House. But that was when the Senate and White House were in Democratic control.
CBD said the bill’s chances are considered better in 2017, when Republicans will control the House, Senate and White House.
For the record
Wayne Pacelle, president & CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, wrote about the issue on his blog for The HSUS. An excerpt:
With Republican majorities in both chambers, and with the Trump administration likely to actively support trophy hunting, this is a perilous moment for wolves.
In order to retain federal protections for them, we’ll need a massive outpouring of concern from citizens to their lawmakers. If they are delisted, we can expect more than 500 of the 5,000 wolves in the lower 48 to be shot, trapped, snared, and even chased by packs of hounds this coming fall and winter.
Please call your U.S. representative and U.S. senators and urge them to oppose any delisting bills or amendments or riders in Congress because they subvert judicial review and fly in the face of science that shows wolves are not adequately recovered to remove protections and turn management over to states that have pledged to immediately begin killing them again.
Your comments on the grizzly bear delisting proposal have enormously influenced decision makers, and now it’s time to speak up loudly and in overwhelming numbers for the wolves.
The entire blog is here.
A Michigan appeals court has found that the state’s 2014 wolf hunt was unconstitutional and the law allowing it should be struck down.
A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals made the unanimous ruling in an opinion released this week, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The judges found that a provision of the law that allows for free military hunting, fishing and trapping licenses isn’t connected to the object of the law, which is providing for scientific management of wildlife habitats.
That violates the “title-object clause” in the Michigan Constitution that says the object of a law must be expressed in its title, the judges ruled.
The entire law must be struck down because it’s not clear if the measure would have been approved if that provision wasn’t included, the judges said.
The ruling is in favor of the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and overturns an earlier ruling from the Michigan Court of Claims.
The Michigan Legislature in 2014 adopted a voter initiative giving the Michigan Natural Resources Commission and the Legislature joint responsibility to name new game animals.
The initiative came after earlier failed efforts to add wolves to the definition of “game” in Michigan. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected challenged the law.
In the appeals court ruling, judges said the group viewed the law as “a Trojan Horse, within which the ability to hunt wolves was cleverly hidden.” The judges said though that their decision wasn’t based on policy but “on an analysis of the dictates of Michigan’s constitution.”
In December 2014, a federal judge threw out an Obama administration decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list — a decision that banned further wolf hunting and trapping in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to strip wolves of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The 242–161 vote was on amending a hunting bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act.
“This vote by the U.S. House of Representatives is a crack at the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act, a law that has a 99 percent success rate at pulling species back from the brink of extinction,” said Drew Caputo of the environmental group Earthjustice. “Ninety percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the act. If we continue down this slippery slope, we could end up in a world where our children or grandchildren might never again see a bald eagle, or a breaching whale, or hear the cry of a wolf in the wild.”
Amendment sponsors include U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Benishek of Michigan, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
Their measure, which the House voted for in late February, would override the federal court rulings that state management plans do not sufficiently protect wolves and return species management to states. This could again allow for the trophy hunting of Great Lakes wolves and the killing of wolves in most of Wyoming, where a management plan would provided for shooting wolves on site.
The amendment also contains a clause precluding further judicial review of the removal of federal protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“If enacted, this legislation could prove devastating for the recovery of wolves in the continental United States,” said Caputo. “What’s at stake here is whether wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes will again face the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.”
The House vote came less than two months after Congress rejected a rider to an omnibus spending bill that would have removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.
A similar push is on in the U.S. Senate. In January, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works added a provision to the Sportsmen’s Act to subvert the judicial process and delist wolves. Currently, gray wolves in Minnesota are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act and as “endangered” for Wyoming, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Both the House and Senate measures would order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reissue a rule to delist the gray wolf. The rule was first issued in late 2011 and cleared the way for states to manage wolf populations, which quickly led to the slaughter of wolves.
Wisconsin legislators legalized the use of firearms and crossbows to kill wolves. The state also legalized the baiting, trapping and hounding of wolves.
“In Wisconsin, wolves are killed in some of the most brutal ways,” said Wendy Keefover, manager of The Humane Society of the United State’s native carnivore protection program. “Wisconsin is the only state where you can hound wolves. You can bait wolves. You can use neck snares to trap a wolf. …Wisconsin has some of the most egregious ways to kill.”
Different numbers can be found for the wolf hunts held in 2012–13, 2013–14 and 2014–15 in Wisconsin.
Data from HSUS shows:
- 2012–13: The 2012 winter wolf count was 779–804 in 205 packs. The proposed hunting quota was 201 wolves. The DNR reported the killing of 117 wolves: 56 hunted and 61 trapped.
- 2013–14: The wolf population was 660–689 in 197 packs. During that “season,” 17 wolf packs disappeared and the population declined by 19 percent. The HSUS said 65 wolves were killed for livestock depredation, 21 died in vehicle collisions, 59 were killed illegally, and hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves. Some 16,672 applications were filed and 1,879 permits were sold for the trophy hunt.
- 2014–15: The state issued 1,500 permits to hunters and trappers and set a hunt quota of 156 wolves, prompting an appeal from The HSUS, which said the pace of trophy hunting, along with poaching, would cause a population crash. The HSUS estimated the total number of wolves killed was 301. Less than a week into the hunt, the DNR closed four of the six zones, with half the zones exceeding quotas.
“There was such a rush to hunt,” said Melissa Tedrowe, Wisconsin state director for The HSUS.
“After delisting, the only management tool offered by our state or the other states was to kill wolves,” said environmental activist Kelly Powell of Madison. “That isn’t a management plan. That’s slaughter. That isn’t the way to deal with a recovering species.”
The official wolf hunting season in Wisconsin ended in early December 2014.
That month, a federal judge overturned the delisting of the Great Lakes wolves, putting permitted hunts on hold.
Benishek, in a statement, said the delisting amendment “was based on valuable input from both Michigan and federal officials in order to use sound science to responsibly manage the wolf population while also meeting the needs of local communities. As the number of wolves has increased well beyond the recommended number for recovery, there has been a negative impact on other species and a constant threat to livestock and pets.”
The delisting measure has the support of Safari Club International, a hunting group, and the National Rifle Association, the largest gun ownership group in the United States.
On the opposing side, Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Humane Society of the United States, along with many state and local organizations, maintain the congressional push to delist wolves does not involve sound science or responsible management, nor does it have widespread public support.
“I just really want to emphasize that the American public and the majority of Wisconsinites value and appreciate wolves as they icon that they are,” said Keefover.
She and Tedrowe said the drive to delist is based on myths about wolves as predators and ignores the role of large carnivores in the ecosystem.
A year ago, a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations suggested reclassifying the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act as threatened throughout the contiguous United States. That move would continue federal oversight and funding for species recovery efforts but provide some regulatory flexibility to address wolf conflicts.
“A congressional end run around science and the Endangered Species Act will create more controversy and put wolves and the law itself in jeopardy,” Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said at the time. “The better path is to downlist wolves to threatened, replace the failed piecemeal efforts of the past with a new science-based recovery strategy and bring communities together to determine how wolves will be returned to and managed in places where they once lived.”
The proposal pending in the Senate and the measure that passed the House does not take that approach. Another version of the Senate bill lacks the delisting amendment, and others opposed by animal welfare advocates and environmentalists.
Activists also have grave concerns that lawmakers may attach riders to budget bills providing for the delisting of gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.
Recommended reading …
The U.S. House has voted for an amendment to the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015 that would strip wolves of federal existing protections in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The amendment, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Benishek of Michigan, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, would override two federal court decisions that found these states’ management plans do not sufficiently protect wolves.
The legislation would return wolf management to states whose management plans have explicitly been deemed insufficient by federal courts. The wolf delisting amendment further includes a clause precluding further judicial review of the removal of federal protections for wolves in the states at issue.
Drew Caputo, Earthjustice vice-president of litigation for Oceans, Lands and Wildlife, said in a statement, “This is an unfortunate day for wolves. If enacted, this legislation could prove devastating for the recovery of wolves in the continental United States. What’s at stake here is whether wolves in Wyoming and in the Great Lakes will again face the same unregulated killing that nearly wiped them out in the first place.”
He continued, “Further, this vote by the U.S. House of Representatives is a crack at the very foundation of the Endangered Species Act, a law that has a 99 percent success rate at pulling species back from the brink of extinction. Ninety percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support the Act. If we continue down this slippery slope, we could end up in a world where our children or grandchildren might never again see a bald eagle, or a breaching whale, or hear the cry of a wolf in the wild.”
Oregon wildlife officials have voted to remove the gray wolf from the state’s Endangered Species Act list.
The state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 to delist the wolves during meeting this week in Salem.
Eighty-one wolves now live in Oregon. State biologists said the species is not in danger of extinction here. But some independent scientists disagree with that conclusion.
While delisting wolves wouldn’t lead to immediate changes, more lethal measures could be allowed to manage them in the future.
The action has no effect on wolves in some areas further west, which are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Wolves in eastern Oregon were taken off the federal list four years ago.
Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director of The Humane Society of the United States, said the decision to delist wolves was not only premature, but also follows a disturbing pattern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission waging war against our native carnivores.
He said, “Last month, the commission voted to allow trophy hunters and federal wildlife agents to kill more cougars and now it’s wolves facing arbitrary decisions that fly in the face of ethical conservation, ignore the best available science and are out of touch with modern society. These decisions are not aligned with responsible management and ignore Oregonian values.”
Some background from the Humane Society:
With fewer than 90 individuals, wolves are currently absent from most of their suitable range in Oregon.
Hunting cougars and wolves harms individuals and family groups. This killing especially leaves dependent young to die from starvation, predation and exposure, and affects subpopulations of both species.
On October 9, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission decided to permit the killing of all cougars who live in so-called “target zones” on 6,236 square miles of Oregon’s lands.
When persistently killed, large carnivores cannot achieve their work to balance healthy ecosystems.
Wisconsin hunters testified before two legislative committees today about their fears of animal rights activists harming them or their dogs.
The testimony came in support of a Republican-backed bill designed to outlaw the Wolf Patrol, a group of animal rights activists who followed and filmed wolf hunters in Wisconsin and Montana in 2014 looking for illegal activity.
Although the federal government placed Great Lakes wolves back on the endangered species list in December, ending Wisconsin’s wolf hunts for the moment, bear hunters now fear the Wolf Patrol will target them for harassment.
The Senate and Assembly’s sporting heritage committees held separate hearings on the measure. Dozens of people showed up to speak, many dressed in camouflage and Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association sweatshirts.
“I don’t want someone waiting at the end of my cabin driveway waiting to follow me around,” Robyn Prince, a Clear Lake bear hunter, told the Senate committee. “This is not OK. They’re taking it above and beyond.”
The bill’s primary Assembly sponsor, Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, said he’s heard horrible stories about activists making noise while standing in front of bait piles placed by hunters to lure unsuspecting animals within close reach to be killed. He complained that activists have said mean things about hunters online, but he couldn’t cite instances in which activists were convicted of committing violent acts against hunters.
Wisconsin law already prohibits interfering with a hunting, fishing or trapping-associated activity. The bill would add scouting, dog training and baiting and feeding as hunting activities. It also would expand the definition of interference to include engaging in a number of activities more than twice with intent to impede or interfere with a hunter, including remaining in a hunter’s visual proximity, photographing a hunter, using a drone to photograph a hunter and confronting a hunter.
A first offense would be punishable by a $500 fine. A second offense within five years would be punishable by up $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail. Subsequent offenses would be punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail.
Opponents argued that the state’s existing stalking laws should protect hunters. They insisted that prohibiting people from observing and taking pictures of hunters on public land would be unconstitutional and could have a chilling effect on the Department of Natural Resources’ tip hotline, which citizens use to report illegal hunting.
Patricia Randolph of Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic-Vote Our Wildlife, which works to educate lawmakers about wildlife abuse, told the Assembly committee that the bill creates a double standard. People can’t photograph hunters but hunters can photograph and bask in the glory of their kills with impunity, she said.
“This is the kind of hell this legislation protects,” Randolph said. “You want us to just stand by idly and just watch you guys kill everything? I don’t think so.”
Wolf Patrol issued a statement Wednesday evening saying no one has presented any evidence the organization has impeded or interfered with hunting or trapping. Hunters and lawmakers are trying to foster fear of the group to justify legislation that criminalizes monitoring activities on public lands, the organization said.
The hearings came less than a week after Jarchow and Moulton introduced the proposal, but its prospects look unclear. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Fitzgerald will review the measure but it won’t come to the floor in that chamber before the fall floor session ends next week.
Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, chairman of the Assembly sporting heritage committee, said the panel may vote on the measure next month after the fall floor session ends. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, had no immediate comment.
A federal judge has ruled Chippewa tribes can hunt deer at night beginning next month across most of northern Wisconsin, a decision that restores a tribal right lost after the bands gave the land to the government in the 19th century.
The state Department of Natural Resources has long banned hunting deer at night out of safety concerns. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued an order Tuesday saying the tribes’ new night hunting regulations are stricter than the state’s rules for shooting wolves and deer at night. The regulations mandate that hunters take a 12-hour training course; hit a 6¼-inch bull’s eye from 100 yards eight out of 10 times in the dark; ensure hunting sites have earthen backstops; and submit shooting plans with safe zones of fire.
The ruling cements those rules in place and clears the way for the tribal night season to run from Nov. 1 to Jan. 4 in the so-called ceded territory, a 22,400 square-mile swath of northern Wisconsin the tribes handed to the U.S. government in 1837 and 1842.
“We’re pretty excited about this opportunity,” said Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa’s off-reservation treaty rights. “This is giving (the tribes) an expanded opportunity and it is part of their rights.”
DNR officials said they were disappointed with the ruling but would work to inform the public the night hunt is on.
The Chippewa currently hunt deer at night on their reservations, but they’ve pushed for years for a night hunt in the ceded territory. The tribes tried to convince Crabb in 1989 to exempt tribal hunters from the state prohibition during a court fight over treaty rights in the territory. The judge ruled in 1991 that night deer hunting is dangerous and the state ban applies to tribal hunters.
The Chippewa asked Crabb to reconsider in 2012, arguing the state must believe night hunting is safe since lawmakers allowed a night wolf hunt and the DNR instituted night shooting programs to slow chronic wasting disease in the mid-2000s. The tribes also presented their new safety regulations to the judge for approval.
Crabb ruled in 2013 that the tribes had failed to show circumstances had changed enough to reopen the case, but a federal appeals court ordered her to reconsider. It ruled there was little reason to believe safety concerns are a valid reason for denying a tribal night hunt, noting Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Michigan all allow such hunts and hunting has become safer over the last 20 years. The U.S. Supreme Court refused the state’s request to take the case earlier this year, which put it back in Crabb’s hands.
The judge analyzed the tribes’ regulations in her order Tuesday and concluded they’re much tighter than the rules the state had in place for the night wolf hunt and chronic wasting disease night shoots.
“Now, with the benefit of 24 years of state experience with night hunting, the tribes have been able to show that the prohibition on off-reservation night deer hunting is no longer necessary for public safety purposes, when properly regulated,” the judge wrote.
She took issue with the state’s argument that allowing a tribal night hunt gives the Chippewa a right that the general public doesn’t have. The tribes retained their hunting rights when they handed the territory over to the government in the 1800s and she blocked them in 1991 only because she felt the practice was dangerous, she wrote.
Erickson said she wasn’t sure how many tribal members would ultimately qualify to hunt deer at night.
Dozens of congressional members led by Arizona Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva are raising an alarm over the record number of anti-Endangered Species Act provisions in House and Senate appropriations bills to fund the Interior Department and other federal agencies for the upcoming fiscal year.
A letter to the president calls on him to ensure the damaging attacks by Republicans, which would block federal protections for gray wolves, greater sage grouse, lesser prairie chicken, and numerous other species, are removed from final legislation to fund the federal government.
The letter calls the Endangered Species Act “a bedrock environmental law that for forty years has protected our irreplaceable and iconic American Wildlife and landscapes. It has been ninety-nine percent effective, preventing the extinction of hundreds of plants and animals, including the peregrine falcon, the Florida manatee, the American alligator and our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle.”
Yet, the writers said, “House Republicans have doubled down on their quest to erode protections provided under the Endangered Species Act.”
“We endorse this strong statement from nearly 100 members of Congress, which reflects the resolve of the vast majority of American voters who support the Endangered Species Act,” said Drew Caputo, of the nonprofit Earthjustice. “In a time of partisan strife, fully 90 percent of voters have found common cause in protections for imperiled species and preservation of our natural heritage.”