MOORHEAD, Minn. - Funding has been restored to trap gray wolves in Minnesota who prey on livestock.
The funding ran out for about a week before the U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week it would provide funding for the rest of the year and also match the $110,000 again next year that's also provided by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the wolf control program.
Officials don't know why the number of wolves attacking livestock has climbed this year, but it could be because a recent DNR survey found the federally protected wolf population has climbed 25 percent in one year to an estimated 2,900 in Minnesota as of last winter.
After a letter was sent by U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and others to the Department of Agriculture, the agency quickly restored the funding.
Members of Minnesota's congressional delegation who signed the letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week were Peterson, Reps. Rick Nolan, Tom Emmer and Tim Walz; and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.
"Until we figure out a long-term solution here in Congress and return wolf management back to Minnesota, these depredation services will remain an important avenue for relief when my constituents are dealing with wolves threatening their livestock," Peterson said in a statement this week.
Peterson's office didn't know how much funding was going to be available, but USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service, which handles the wolf control program, said it would pay for the backlog of trapping cases and others that might pop up in the final two months of the year.
The wolf attacks on sheep and calves mainly occur in their northern Minnesota range land, however, every year the wolf's range seems to stretch deeper into central and southern Minnesota. In addition, the roaming tendency of wolves means they can cause livestock losses anywhere in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
The department said for many years the only place to find gray wolves (also called timberwolves) in the continental United States was the deep forest of northern Minnesota. However, while the rebounding wolf population is an ecological success story, it creates challenges for farmers and ranchers who must find a way to protect livestock from the predators.
Farmers and ranchers who have lost livestock are urged to carefully examine the kill site and dead livestock and be cautious not to trample over animal tracks or disturb the site. A USDA trapper or DNR conservation officer may be able to read subtle clues that farmers or ranchers may not recognize.
To help the situation, just this past week, the Minnesota ag department has announced that grant money is available to help prevent wolf attacks. Applications are due by Nov. 24.
There is $120,000 available this year and another $120,000 will be available next fiscal year.
The grants can be used by farmers or ranchers for purchases of guard animals, veterinary costs for guard animals, installation of wolf barriers and wolf-deterring lights and alarms and calving or lambing shelters.
The application and more information can be found on the state agriculture department's website.
The federal government, however, provides the trapping services for farmers and ranchers out of the USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service office in Grand Rapids.
Federal trappers in Minnesota kill an average of 179 wolves annually. Last year they removed 183 and this year they had killed 197 as of earlier this month.
Wolf attacks have been on the increase this fall with about one complaint every day, according to Thom Petersen, director of government relations for the Minnesota Farmers Union, who worked with the delegation to regain funding.
He said some of the highest conflict areas lately have been in Roseau and Kittson counties in northwestern Minnesota and Carlton and Pine counties in northeastern Minnesota because of the higher wolf populations there and a number of smaller cow-calf operators.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota congressional delegation is also working on delisting the gray wolf as a threatened species in the western Great Lakes region. Federal judges have blocked efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan off the endangered list.
Thus, it remains illegal for farmers and hunters to kill the wolves except in defense of human life.
Thom Petersen said the legislation has slowly been moving through committees in the U.S. House.
"We think it's going to be awhile," he said about getting a bill passed in the House.