By Shawn Perich
Minnesota wolf management is like a volleyball game. Competing interests bounce management back and forth over a net called the Endangered Species Act. Last week, animal rights advocates drove a hard spike over the net when they convinced a federal judge to place Great Lakes wolves, including those in Minnesota, on the endangered list—again.
Actually, Minnesota’s wolves are classified as Threatened, not Endangered, but the ruling brings state wolf management, which included limited hunting and trapping, to a grinding halt. Now in Minnesota, the only time you may kill a wolf is if it is threatening your life. Livestock losses will be addressed by government trappers.
This is the fourth time we’ve played this on and off the list game, although I don’t think anyone has bothered to share the scorecard with real wolves. The court-ordered management changes have nothing to do with the population status of Minnesota wolves, which hasn’t changed very much over the past 15 years, whether they’ve been completely protected or not. This is because state management–even though it allows citizens the ability to kill nuisance wolves and provides hunting and trapping opportunities—is intended to perpetuate a sustainable wolf population. But in a courtroom lawyers fight over words on paper rather than wolves in the woods. And, according to the latest court decision, on paper, wolves remain endangered in the Great Lakes States.
I’m not sure animal rights advocates view the returning wolves to federal control via the Endangered Species Act is the best way to perpetuate and sustain the wolf population. I think more to the point, they see federal control as the best way to ensure wolf hunting and trapping will not occur. As many critics of animal rights have pointed out, the movement is generally motivated by preventing human-caused death to individual animals rather than ensuring the survival of a species.
The awful irony to this endless courtroom struggle over wolves is that it has the unintended consequence of tossing truly endangered creatures under the bus. In short, there are many creatures with dwindling populations which need to be evaluated for endangered species protection, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has limited resources to do so. The legal wrangling over wolves is expensive and distracts the agency from working with other species more deserving of federal protection. Of course, some of those species might be bugs, rodents or nondescript little birds—none of which has the charismatic appeal of a wolf. If you ain’t photogenic, you don’t have much of a chance in today’s world.
The animal rights community doesn’t have an exclusive on simplistic points of view. You don’t have to look much further than the Letters to the Editor section of this newspaper to find diatribes from folks who wish to blame wolves for everything from the lack of deer in their hunting area to sinister government plots. Even wildlife biologists get in the game, because wolves have become the latest scapegoat in the decline of Minnesota’s moose herd. Please recall it wasn’t that long ago when biologists were saying our moose were victims of climate change and mysterious diseases.
The best crazy talk (if there is such a thing) that I’ve heard in the past week regarding wolves is that court ruling will drive northern Minnesotans to the breaking point, leading them to kill wolves illegally in order to vent their frustrations. Perhaps there is a nugget of truth to this assertion. After all, poaching has existed as long as there have been game laws. But real poaching is one thing and bar talk is quite another. So far, what I’ve read in news reports about a supposed surge in wolf poaching, even though it is coming in quotes from wolf experts, is bar talk.
Here’s why. I spend a lot of time in the woods and, over decades, the chances I’ve had to poach a wolf—were I inclined to do so—have been few and far between. You just don’t encounter wolves all that often, even less so in a place where you could shoot one and get away with it. A determined poacher could set unmarked snares in places where wolves travel and maybe get one or two. Again, it’s hard to find places where you could do such a thing and get away with it. To top it off, there are precious few people with the free time, skills and determined hatred that would all be necessary attributes of true wolf poacher. About the only really poaching effective method would be to poison deer or beaver carcasses and leave them in a place where wolves would find it. Very few people would stoop to such a despicable act.
Instead, what is most likely to happen is that northern Minnesotans will continue doing what the wolf advocates keep telling us we are supposed to do—coexist with our canine neighbors. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing so in the many years since federal wolf protection began in the 1970s. I am aware of that coexistence every morning when I step outside with my dog. So is everyone else who owns a dog, keeps livestock or has kids waiting in the predawn darkness for a school bus in wolf country. Simply put, we’ve learned to live with wolves.
Unfortunately, that isn’t good enough for those who believe the lives of every individual wolf must be protected from humans at all costs. That’s ok, we need people who think that way, even if many of the rest of us don’t agree with their view. But it is not ok, whether you are a wolf advocate, wolf hater or wolf expert, to assume that those of us who live with wolves in our backyards are bloodthirsty wolf killers. Maybe if that viewpoint about people living in wolf country would change, the viewpoints about wolves would, too.