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Bills to end Endangered Species Act protections for wolves introduced in Congress

One of the Lake Superior Zoo’s gray wolves stalks across its snow-covered exhibit. (News Tribune / 2010 file)

Two bills have been introduced in the U.S. House this week to strip federal Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in several states.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., introduced HF 843 that would prohibit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing wolves under the Endangered Species Act in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Meanwhile, Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., introduced HF 884, broader legislation that would restore wolves to their earlier unprotected status under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule from 2012 in not just the Great Lakes states but also Wyoming.

Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Sean Duffy, R-Wis., are among several co-sponsors on both bills.

Kline, who manages a fifth-generation family farm in southeastern Minnesota, where few if any wolves exist, said individual states should be able to manage the big predators without federal interference.

A summary of Kline’s bill says that “the overpopulation of gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region contributes to the decline of livestock, pets and other animals in the wild.”

“Wolf attacks are a concern for farmers and livestock producers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where the overpopulation of gray wolves is directly linked to the decline of livestock and other animals,’’ Kline said in a statement Thursday. “This bipartisan legislation will remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list and return management to the states, providing greater flexibility and giving states exclusive jurisdiction over the wolves within their own borders.”

The proposed legislation is in response to a federal judge’s ruling in December that wolves in the Great Lakes states be immediately placed back under full protection of the Endangered Species Act, under the government's original 1978 ruling to protect the animals which had been hunted, trapped and harassed to near-extinction at the time.

The judge ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 rule delisting wolves in the Great Lakes region, handing wolf management back to states and tribes, was improper. The federal agency has not yet decided whether to appeal the judge’s order. But the legislation introduced this week, if passed and signed into law by the president, would take precedent over the judge’s ruling.

The legislation is supported by groups such as the Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union.

Wolf supporters, however, say wolves are in integral part of thriving ecosystems and that the legislation is an overreaction by politicians and wolf opponents who continue to wrongly cast the animals as storybook demons.

“This legislation is an end-around a series of federal court rulings that have determined that state and federal agencies have acted improperly” in managing wolves in recent years, said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement Thursday. “This bill is just the latest act of political bomb-throwing and gamesmanship, and lawmakers who want balance on the wolf issue should reject it.”

In January the Humane Society and 21 animal protection and conservation organizations petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list grey wolves as officially “threatened’’ across most of the U.S. That would continue federal oversight but enable some wolves to be trapped and killed by federally-approved trappers if the animals cause problems near pets or livestock.

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