Wolf ruling receives criticism from ag community

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 14, 2005
by WLJ
Last week’s announcement of the Oregon ruling on wolf reclassification sent shock waves through the agriculture community and has producer organizations in the affected states planning their appeal.
A federal judge in Oregon ruled last Tuesday that the Bush administration violated the Endangered Species Act when it relaxed protections on some of the gray wolf populations in April 2003. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) divided the wolves range into three areas and reclassified the Eastern and Western populations of wolves as threatened, instead of endangered. Experimental non-essential populations, like those found in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho and the rest of Montana, were not included in the reclassification or jurisdiction of the ruling. These wolves are considered to be separate and distinct populations with different rules for management.
However, producers who operated in areas where the wolf status changed were allowed to kill wolves that were attacking their livestock. The Oregon decision rescinded that rule change and has again made it illegal for producers in areas outside of experimental populations to do anything about the wolves except call FWS.
Tom McDonnell, director of Natural Resources for the American Sheep Industry Association, said, “As a result of the Oregon wolf lawsuit, USDA’s Fish Wildlife Service has pulled all of its traps and halted wolf management activity in Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern Montana and Northern Idaho. It is still uncertain if relocation can even be used as a management tool at this time. FWS is in the process of applying for special take permits, a process that could take weeks or months. At this time it is illegal for anyone within these regions to kill a wolf for any reason.”
McDonnell added that because of wolf management in Minnesota the species was already down listed to threatened. Therefore, the lawsuit does not impact wolf management efforts in this area. He noted that the Minnesota wolf management plan and efforts to delist the eastern timber wolf are, however, on indefinite hold.
“If the lawsuit is allowed to stand nationally, it will mean the wolf will have to be recovered throughout its historic habitat, at historic numbers,” said McDonnell. “Unfortunately, historic population estimates are just that, estimates, and much of the wolf’s habitat has been converted to agriculture, urban areas and other uses. If applied at the national level, this lawsuit makes wolf recovery for all intents and purposes very difficult.”
Steve Pilcher, executive director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said, “The wolves are doing very well and people need to understand there are some impacts with livestock being present. Unfortunately, it is the livestock industry that bears the cost of having the wolves present. I am thankful the Oregon ruling does not have any impact on the 10j rule that is now in effect. For those of us dealing with the experimental non-essential populations, we’re very fortunate to have this increased flexibility in protecting our livestock. It’s just sad when we have those type of people making decisions when wolves can have such a significant impact on the lives of the ranching community.”
The 10j regulations allow livestock and landowners in areas where nonessential experimental populations of wolves roam to shoot a wolf depradating their livestock without obtaining a permit first.
Glen Stonebrink, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said the association is waiting to see what FWS’ plan of action is before moving forward to combat this ruling. Stonebrink is anticipates that FWS will rewrite some of the rules of the Endangered Species Act, in particular the 4D rule, which was used to reclassify those wolves from endangered to threatened. “Instead of the judge having to define everything as he did, FWS could go back and redo their rule-making and make it more clear so it would have a better chance of standing up in court,” said Stonebrink. “In the meantime, I think it is important for producers and legislators to decide that the Endangered Species Act should be reformed and defined by lawmakers. We’re tired of the court defining what something means when it is pretty clear.”
Incidentally, the gray wolf is extinct from Oregon and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is strongly fighting any plans to reintroduce the wolves to that area.
Responding to the Oregon ruling, Jack Field, executive director for the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, said, “We oppose removing that management tool from our cattlemen and our producers realizing that if there is an issue we would like livestock producers to have the ability to protect their personal property and livelihood.”
Lloyd Knight, executive vice president of the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association, said, “That decision causes some concern and puts up some roadblocks in delisting, but thankfully it does not derail us from state management. In our minds, state management is the next best thing until we get delisting.”
According to FWS, it will take two to four weeks to review the Oregon decision and its implications. The agency did indicate that the lawsuit does not impact the experimental population in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming directly.
Since the Colorado and Oregon wolf management plans allow private landowners to take depredating wolves, these plans may be illegal at this time and producers are encouraged to contact their local FWS for more information.
Wyoming is moving forward with its lawsuit on wolf management.