Bills affecting wolves

The Minnesota Legislature adjourned on May 10, 2012, ending the 2011-2012 biennium. Below is information regarding federal and state actions affecting wolves in Minnesota, including the recent authorization for a public wolf hunting season in Minnesota to begin fall 2012.

Please see below for details on the federal delisting of wolves, the new Minnesota law authorizing a hunting and trapping season for wolves, Minnesota’s wolf management plan, the 2011 changes in state law, and a historical background, including congressional actions and lawsuits affecting wolves.

Federal Delisting

On December 28, 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its rule removing Minnesota’s gray wolves from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. While on the list and designated as ‘threatened’, wolves in Minnesota were managed by the federal government under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). As of Jan 27, 2012, Minnesota’s wolves are managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

State Management of Minnesota’s Wolves

In anticipation of the federal delisting of gray wolves, the Minnesota state legislature passed a wolf management bill in 2000 and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) completed a Wolf Management Plan in 2001. Minnesota statutes were amended in 2011 to change the state status of wolves to a small game species and provide the ability to authorize a season without a five year waiting period. Please see below for details on the state’s management plan.

Wolf Hunt in Minnesota

Governor Dayton signed the Omnibus Game and Fish Bill (HF 2171)  into law on May 3, 2012. The new law authorizes the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to manage a wolf hunting and trapping season, including setting quotas, determining number of hunting licenses, and reserving a portion of the quota for trappers. The wolf-hunting season begins on Nov. 3, 2012, the first day of the state’s firearms deer season. 6,000 licenses will be issued to take up to 400 wolves, half from hunting and half from trapping. The DNR has taken public comments on the hunting and trapping season via an online survey. The DNR received 7,351 responses to its public survey — 1,542 people supported a wolf season, 5,809 opposed it. The DNR is proceeding with the season.

The 2012 omnibus game and fish bill included language to authorize a public hunt of the gray wolf in Minnesota. As stated below, Minnesota’s original Wolf Management Plan contained a clause that authorized the DNR to consider hunting and trapping seasons no sooner than five years after wolves were removed from the federal Endangered Species List (they were removed in Dec, 2011). The requirement to wait for five years for a hunting season was removed from law in 2011. In the Senate, during its debate on the omnibus game and fish bill in April, 2012, votes were taken on an amendment to postpone the season for five years.  The amendment was offered by Senator Hann, and Senators Dibble, Eaton, and Bonoff spoke in favor of it. MVAP supported this amendment. Unfortunately the amendment failed: 26 senators supported it and 40 senators opposed it. Votes taken on the amendment are included in MVAP’s Humane Scorecard 2011-2012. Please see Animal Bills 2012: Game and Fish Bill for information on the Senate amendment to postpone the season for five years.

Numerous bills were introduced in 2012 regarding a wolf season in Minnesota:

  • SF 1628/HF 1856 requires a wolf hunting season to coincide with the beginning to the 2012 firearms deer season and a wolf trapping season to begin on Jan. 1, 2013. Bills introduced by Senators Saxhaug, Bakk, Stumpf, Tomassoni, and Skoe and by Representative Dill.
  • SF 1945/HF 2484 authorizes wolf hunting and trapping (including snaring). Bills introduced by Senators Gazelka, Skoe, Brown, Carlson, and Saxhaug and by Representatives Fabian, Dill, Drazkowski, LeMieur, and Hancock.
  • SF 1943/HF 2171 is the DNR’s Game and Fish Bill, and it includes provisions for wolf hunting and trapping seasons including allowances for licensed trappers to take wolves by snare. As introduced, it varies from exact DNR proposals: this bill allows for concurrent wolf and deer hunting seasons; the DNR has proposed the wolf hunting season start after the deer season. HF 2171 is the bill that passed into law and that authorizes a public season on wolves in 2012.
  • SF 1830 in the second engrossed version, allows for wolf hunting and trapping seasons.
  • SF 1828/HF 2278 prohibits lead shot from being used while hunting wolves. Bills introduced by Senator Higgins and Representative Slocum, Greiling, Paymar, and Wagenius.
  • SF 2547/HF 2945 contains various DNR provisions, includes provisions for wolf hunting and trapping. Bills introduced by Senators Higgins, Saxhaug, Dziedzic and by Representatives McNamara and Wagenius.

Wolf Bills in 2011

In 2011 Minnesota statutes were amended to change the state status of wolves to a small game species and provide the ability to authorize a season without a five year waiting period.

During the special session in July 2011, called by Governor Dayton to resolve the budget impasse, the Game and Fish bill, normally passed separately during regular session, was absorbed into the Special Session Environment finance bill and passed into law. Language in the Special Session Environment bill allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner to authorize a public hunt of gray wolves immediately after they are delisted from the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, the new special session legislation includes the gray wolf in the definition of “small game” in the game and fish laws.

The recent legislation was aimed at a clause in the Wolf Management Plan that authorized the DNR to consider hunting and trapping seasons no sooner than five years after delisting. This five-year moratorium on any wolf hunt corresponded with the FWS federal five-year monitoring period, which is required with the delisting of a species from the endangered species list.

A resolution was introduced by Minnesota legislators in 2011 urging the U.S. Congress to delist the wolf. SF 79 was introduced by Senators Ingebrigtsen, Carlson, Pederson, Hoffman, and Gazelka, and HF 154 by Representatives Cornish, Rukavina, Dill, Anzelc, Fabian, and B. Anderson. This resolution passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee in April, 2011, and has been referred to committee in the House. The resolution is obviously no longer necessary, because wolves have since been delisted by the FWS.

Minnesota Wolf Management Plan

Minnesota’s Wolf Management Plan establishes a minimum population of 1,600 wolves. The plan splits the state into two management zones, with more protective regulations in the northern third, considered the wolf’s core range.

Wolf-Human Conflicts Addressed in the Plan

  • The major change with state management is the ability of individual people to directly protect their animals from wolf depredation, subject to certain restrictions. In addition, the state-certified gray wolf predator control program will be available to individuals as another option to deal with livestock depredation.
  • State regulations allow harassment of wolves that are within 500 yards of people, buildings, livestock or domestic pets to discourage wolves from contacting people and domestic animals.
  • Minnesota’s Wolf Management Plan allows anyone to take a wolf to defend human life.
  • The Wolf Management Plan has provisions for taking wolves that are posing risks to livestock and domestic pets. Owners of livestock, guard animal or domestic animals may shoot or destroy wolves that pose an immediate threat to their animals on property they own or lease, in accordance with local statutes. In addition, the owner of a domestic pet may shoot or destroy a gray wolf posing an immediate threat on any property, as long as the owner is supervising the pet.
  • In the southern two-thirds of Minnesota (Zone B), a person may shoot a gray wolf at any time to protect livestock, domestic animals or pets on land they own, lease or manage. The circumstance of “immediate threat” does not apply.
  • The state will also certify private “predator controllers” with expertise in hunting or trapping who can remove wolves in areas with verified loss.

In the past, a critical component of wolf management in Minnesota has been the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wolf depredation management program, which included reimbursement for verified livestock losses due to wolf depredation.  Federal funding for this program ended in 2011, just before the State assumed responsibility for wolf management in Minnesota. The DNR is working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and state livestock associations to identify funding that could support this program in the future.

For more information about Minnesota’s wolf management plan, please see the DNR’s website.

Historical Background

The gray wolf was among the first animals to be protected as an endangered species in the United States. For centuries, wolves had been perceived as a threat to humans, to livestock, and to wild game, and because of this, they were hunted to the brink of extinction. In the 1970s, the U.S. Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to provide federal protections against species loss. The wolf was listed as endangered in all of the lower 48 states except Minnesota, where it was listed as threatened. (“Endangered” means at risk of becoming extinct; “threatened” means at risk of becoming endangered.) This made it illegal for private individuals to kill wolves in Minnesota, and it placed critical habitat in Minnesota under federal protection.

Since then, wolf populations have begun to bounce back. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there were only 750 wolves in Minnesota in 1970, whereas the most recent estimates put the Minnesota wolf population at around 3000. Because this figure exceeds the minimum population of 1600 wolves established as a measure of wolf recovery, there have been a number of efforts to remove the Minnesota wolf from the Endangered Species List.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has delisted the wolf two times before the most recent delisting in 2011. Both times, however, the decision was successfully challenged in federal court by animal protection and conservation organizations, and the Minnesota wolf was relisted. The legal issue was whether or not the language of the Endangered Species Act allows the federal government to identify a distinct population of an otherwise threatened species and simultaneously delist that population.

Congressional Delisting Actions

Attempts to remove Minnesota’s wolves from the Endangered Species List by Congress (as opposed to removal by Fish and Wildlife Services) have been controversial. Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection opposes the use of legislative action to remove the gray wolf—or any population of animal—from the Endangered Species List. MVAP believes that decisions involving specific species’ inclusion or exclusion from the Endangered Species List should be made by Fish and Wildlife Services, using data collected by local, state, and national scientists, and not determined by political interests.

The Endangered Species Act is one of our nation’s most fundamental animal protection laws. It protects our most vulnerable animals from hunting and habitat loss that could otherwise cause them to become extinct. Legislation proposed in the U.S. Congress would remove the wolf from the Endangered Species List. This is an attempt to circumvent the authority of federal judges and conservation scientists who are supposed to be responsible for making informed decisions about whether an animal deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act. If passed, such legislation would set a dangerous precedent for allowing political interests to exempt animals from protections they need to survive.

There have been several bills introduced at the federal level that would circumvent the FWS delisting process by removing federal protections for the Minnesota gray wolf via Congressional action:

  • In February 2011 Representative John Kline, MN (R) chief author and co-sponsors Rep. Collin Peterson, MN (D),  Rep. Chip Cravaack, MN (R ), Michele Bachmann, MN (R) introduced the Western Great Lakes Wolf Management Act of 2011 (HR 838). That bill would congressionally return management of the Midwest wolves to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. That bill states, “Any wolf in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan shall not be treated under any status of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 USC 1531 et seq.), including as an endangered species, a threatened species, an essential experimental population, or a nonessential experimental population.” It has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
  • In May 2011 Rep Miller, Candice S. (MI) introduced another attempt to delist wolves via federal legislation, HR 1819, which Rep Kline, John (MN) also supports as a cosponsor. This bill was also referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
  • In December 2010, Senator Amy Klobuchar called on the Department of the Interior to “expedite” the process of delisting the wolf in Minnesota. (The Department of the Interior houses the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which controls the Endangered Species List.) In a letter to Secretary Ken Salazar, Sen. Klobuchar wrote, “The increased wolf populations are threatening the citizens of my state as well as our livestock and hunting industries. The increase in the wolf population also provides strong evidence that the ESA has been successful.” Sen. Klobuchar also indicated in her letter that she will be introducing legislation to “speed up” the delisting process.
  • A number of other bills only delist the wolf, or delist a distinct population of wolves or other species. These bills have been referred to committee where they are awaiting further action.

For more information on Minnesota’s wolves, please see the International Wolf Center’s website.

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