Federal funds run dry for predatory wolf control programby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
Goodland, Minn. — A federally funded program that controls predatory wolves in northern Minnesota will soon be out of money, putting livestock and pets at risk.
When farmers can prove a wolf killed their animals, they call Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Trappers come out to the farm, set traps, and kill the wolves they catch.
The money for the trapping program — about $500,000 a year — has long come from Congressional earmarks. But last spring, Congress voted to eliminate earmarks. As a result, in mid-July, the state will no longer have money to hire the trappers.
Not being able to rely on them will pose a hardship for cattle ranchers like Neil Radaich. During calving season, Radaich and his father drive several times daily out to the far end of a pasture in Goodland, Minn., to check on cows and calves.
"The cows seem to go off by themselves a little bit away from herd to have their babies, just prime targets sitting out here," Radaich said, before he tagged the left ear of a newborn calf with an identification card.
The Radaich family has raised cattle on this land in northern Minnesota since the 1960s. They have about 300 cows on 1,000 acres, surrounded on three sides by forest. Their land is prime habitat for some of Minnesota's 3,000 wolves.
Most years, the family loses one or two animals to predators — almost always wolves. That's when they call Wildlife Services. On the Radaich farm, trappers have killed as many as five in a year.
If government can't help farmers, some farmers could start killing wolves illegally, said John Hart, the long-time director of the federal Wildlife Services office in Grand Rapids. He also worries that public attitudes toward wolves could sour.
"By and large, they've become so common that over the last few years, the general public has come to view them as just part of the landscape, as long as the damage can be managed appropriately," Hart said. "When that damage can't be addressed appropriately, I think we're going to see a giant step backwards in public attitudes towards acceptance of wolves. And that could negatively impact the wolf population in the long run."
Minnesota's Congressional delegation has been trying for months to find stop-gap funding to hire the trappers, but so far the effort has failed.
The state's position on the matter is that as long as the federal government manages wolves, the federal government needs to take care of problem wolves.
Dan Stark, a wolf specialist for the state Department of Natural Resources, is looking forward to the day wolves are removed from the Endangered Species List. He said the state has a federally approved wolf management plan that worked fine for more than a year in 2007 when the wolf was briefly off the list.
"The main thing is that it allows some flexibility for individuals to take wolves that are causing depredation to their livestock or pets," Stark said.
The plan provides for problem-wolf trapping similar to the federal program. But with the state facing budget problems, no one is willing to say where the money to pay for it might come from.
The federal government hopes to announce removal of the wolf from the Endangered Species List before the end of the year. But it's likely one or more conservation groups will sue to block that process.
If removing wolves from the list is postponed again, some people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan could push Congress to bypass the USDA's scientific process for doing so and legislate wolves off the list, similar to how Idaho and Montana did last spring.
- Morning Edition, 07/07/2011, 8:46 a.m.