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Stauber leading effort to strip protections from the gray wolf

The gray wolf is the largest wild member of the Canidae (or dog) family.
The gray wolf is the largest wild member of the Canidae (or dog) family. Northeastern Minnesota was the last remaining refuge for the species after predator control programs in the early 1900s almost eliminated wolves.

The U.S. Interior Department recently retained "threatened" status of the animal in Minnesota.

This story was originally published by MinnPost.

WASHINGTON — On a hunting trip for deer with his bow and arrows, Levi Bock was in the woods north of Crosslake in central Minnesota when he spotted three gray wolves about 40 yards away.

Bock, 35, had come across gray wolves before and they usually avoided close contact with humans. But this trio was behaving in an odd and threatening manner.

Bock said the wolves crept toward him on that morning last October. When they were about 25 yards away, Bock said he started yelling and hollering and the wolves retreated.

But they came back and began to circle Bock, coming ever closer. “At that point I got scared because that’s hunting behavior,” he said.

Bock put an arrow in his bow and shot the lead wolf in the leg when the animal was about 8 yards away. The wolf ran away yelping and his packmates followed.

Bock is among a growing number of hunters, ranchers and farmers that view the gray wolf as a threat that must be curtailed. They say an increasing population of wolves has decimated the deer population and killed livestock and even pets as the predator comes nearer to heavily populated areas.

Even so, the Interior Department last week decided to keep its protections of the gray wolf, which means it’s illegal to kill or hurt this predator in most states, including Minnesota. That has set up a new fight between conservationists and those who seek to reduce the number of wolves in the state.

After he shot the wolf, Bock said he called a friend who was also hunting in the woods. “He came with his vehicle and we hurried up and got out of there,” Bock said.

Bock also called the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which investigated the incident and confirmed that the hunter acted in self-defense.

“We are sportsmen, but we are not happy with the wolves right now because there are so many of them,” Bock said. “But we don’t want them extinct.”

Gray wolves once roamed the Midwestern plains in great numbers but were nearly eradicated by the mid-20th century and listed as endangered on the Endangered Species Act in 1974.

In 1978, the Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the gray wolf as threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the rest of the lower 48 states. When an animal is listed as endangered, it is considered at risk of extinction, when it is listed as threatened, it is at risk of becoming endangered.

In the following decades, a number of lawsuits concerning the gray wolf were filed, some seeking broader protections and some seeking to roll back protections. For instance, when the Trump administration tried to delist the gray wolf, it was stopped by a court.

As of now, the gray wolf remains listed as endangered in most states, threatened in Minnesota, and has no protection at all in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and portions of Washington, Oregon and Utah.

The gray wolf’s defenders, mainly conservation groups, are suing to reinstate protections for the gray wolf in the Rocky Mountain states. They say the threat posed by the gray wolf is highly exaggerated and the species is vital to maintaining fragile ecosystems, keeping deer and elk populations in check and providing carcasses from their kills that feed other animals.

“Wolves are not only a fabled animal, but a keystone species, responsible for balancing ecosystems wherever they are found. They delight our imaginations, and they are nature’s stewards,” said a Defenders of Wildlife blog post.

‘Getting more brazen’

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, says the gray wolf is no longer endangered because their numbers have grown, especially in Minnesota.

He has introduced legislation that would delist the wolf, and has even gone a step further.

Stauber has written to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, saying they should include language to delist the gray wolf in any legislation that would fund the Interior Department.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber.
Pete Stauber Facebook page
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber.

Stauber said the Obama administration proposed removing protections for gray wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2011, but that was successfully challenged “by frivolous lawsuits from extremist organizations that don’t rely on science or facts and seek to fundraise by keeping species listed under the ESA in perpetuity, regardless of merits and findings that an individual species (has) been recovered.”

The letter was signed by 16 of Stauber’s GOP colleagues, including Minnesota Reps. Brad Finstad and Michelle Fischbach.

Stauber told MinnPost that there are “at least” 3,500 gray wolves in Minnesota right now, “if not more,” a population that is far too large for the animal to be considered threatened.

“We know the numbers have recovered sufficiently,” he said.

Stauber also said it was “standing room only” at a recent town hall on the gray wolf that he hosted in Willow River, in Pine County, filled with constituents who are concerned about what they view as a threat from the species.

“We really should celebrate,” Stauber said of the gray wolf’s comeback, but warns “they are getting more brazen” and moving into populated areas, killing pets.

Melissa Smith, executive director of the Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance, does not dispute that the gray wolf’s population has increased and may have recovered in some areas.

But she said the wolves can’t be delisted because state agencies don’t have management plans that would prevent their extermination by hunters who want new trophies. “The hunting groups have such a stranglehold on these agencies,” Smith said.

She said hunters are wrong to complain of decimated deer populations because deer damage claims are on the rise. She also said those who claim the gray wolf has become a major threat to livestock are exaggerating.

Wisconsin, home to about 64,000 farms, reported only 14 wolf attacks on livestock last year, Smith said.

Still, Mark Titera, a Clearwater County Commissioner and cattle farmer, is concerned. He said a neighboring rancher recently suffered a loss of a dozen calves to wolves.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trapped eight wolves just in his place alone,” Titera said.

Titera said ranchers and farmers who suffer losses to wolves are seldom compensated because it’s difficult to prove a kill was made by a wolf and not another predator. He also said that in big herds a loss of a calf may not be discovered for days, after the carcass has been dragged away.

As a county commissioner, Titera said he’s heard plenty of complaints about gray wolves. He said his commission will discuss a resolution on wolves on Tuesday.

Titera said he sympathizes with other ranchers and farmers who are constrained by federal and state laws from protecting their livestock by killing a wolf.

“Nobody wants to be a felon because they want to protect their cows,” he said.

This article first appeared on MinnPost and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.