The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill that would remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act list and open them to state hunting and trapping seasons.
In the latest act of the ongoing wolf saga, the lame-duck House voted 196-180, along heavily partisan lines, to approve H.R. 6784 that would take wolves off the endangered list nationwide and block courts from considering violations of federal law for wolves under the Endangered Species Act.
While the bill is seen as good news for farmers, ranchers and some sportsmen groups that want to see wolf numbers reduced in several states, similar bills have passed the House in recent years but stalled in the Senate, leaving wolves under court-ordered federal protections.
Wolf supporters say the House bill goes too far, allowing extensive hunting and trapping in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — where wolves have recovered from near extinction — and preventing the animals from spreading into additional areas they once occupied before European settlement. Wolf supporters say there aren’t enough wolves in enough places to consider them safe from extinction.This may have been the last chance for a wolf bill to advance as the incoming House in January, with a newly elected Democratic majority, isn’t likely to be as favorable. It’s also unlikely the Senate will take up the bill by year’s end.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., showed House members a chart showing that 74 percent of cattle losses are due to health issues, 7.8 percent due to weather and just 0.2 percent due to wolves.
Of a rancher that lost a calf to wolves, DeFazio said “it’s sad that that calf didn’t get to grow up and go to the slaughterhouse” adding that the wolf delisting bill is “going nowhere in the Senate.”
But supporters of the bill say wolves have recovered in core areas enough to allow some of them to be shot and trapped. They urged the Senate to pass the bill and send it to President Donald Trump.
One of the supporters is recently re-elected Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who represents a large swath of farming country in western Minnesota, who actually introduced the original bill.
In a House speech on Friday, Peterson said, “I have to say in my 28 years in this body I have never seen so much nonsense, misinformation, and propaganda put out on a bill as being put out on this one. We followed the Endangered Species Act. We did what was said, the scientists said we recovered and they delisted the wolves. These were scientists that did it, it wasn’t any politician.
“You had a group out there, these extreme environmentalists and others who have captured our party, went to a judge in Washington, D.C., that has no idea what’s going on at all and convinced that judge that the wolves had not recovered because they had not been re-established all the way to Des Moines, Iowa,” he told the House.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated last year that the state has about 2,856 wolves. The Wisconsin DNR earlier this year said there are as many as 944 wolves in the state, down about 2 percent from the estimated 956 last year, the state’s modern-day record. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has more than 500 wolves.
Earlier this week the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in federal district court in Washington against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act by never developing a comprehensive recovery plan for gray wolves nationwide. According to the 2014 federal court ruling, wolves must remain protected until the Fish and Wildlife Service implements a national plan.
But the federal agency in June went the opposite direction, saying it would yet again file a formal plan later this year to remove wolves from federal protections entirely because they have recovered in enough places to ensure their survival as a species — including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has tried multiple times — through the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations — to delist wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, saying the big predators have fully recovered here after brushing with extinction in the 1960s and ’70s. The most recent of those delisting efforts, in 2012, allowed state agencies to hold wolf trapping and hunting seasons for three years, until late 2014 when a federal judge ruled that the agency had erred in taking wolves off the endangered list too soon.
That December 2014 ruling was upheld in 2017 by a federal appeals court decision that continues to protect wolves across the region today.