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A federal program that investigates wolf complaints and eliminates problem wolves by trapping or shooting them is in danger because Friday's Congressional budget agreement eliminates its funding. (File / Associated Press)

Federal budget deal chops money for Minnesota wolf management

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The federal program that controls wolf depredation in Minnesota is operating "day by day" in the wake of Friday's budget agreement in the U.S. Congress.

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That agreement effectively eliminated money for the USDA's Wildlife Services program, which in Minnesota is based in Grand Rapids. But the program has been ordered by its regional director to keep investigating wolf complaints and killing problem wolves while alternative sources of money are sought, said John Hart, district supervisor in Grand Rapids for USDA's Wildlife Services.

"We've been struggling to keep our heads above water, and this is kind of the final straw," Hart said. "Beginning Oct. 1, with the new federal fiscal year, there will be no USDA money for wolf control."

The Wildlife Services Program investigates wolf complaints and lethally traps or shoots wolves that have attacked livestock or pets. In 2010, Hart's office investigated 272 wolf complaints and lethally trapped or shot 192 wolves.

The Wildlife Services budget has shrunk from a high of about $315,000 in 2005 to $208,000 in 2010, Hart said.

The program employs up to 10 full-time staff members in Minnesota. Peak demand typically occurs starting this time of year, when cows have calves. The peak period continues through the summer grazing period, Hart said.

Wolves in Minnesota are classified as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. State officials have no authority to manage wolves, although delisting of the wolf in Minnesota is tentatively expected to occur by the end of this year.

There are about 3,200 wolves in Minnesota and about 700 each in Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, many more than federal officials expected when the animal first received federal protection in 1974.

State Department of Natural Resources officials said they will seek the help of the Minnesota congressional delegation in finding money to continue wolf-depredation control.

"That's of great concern to us," said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. "We take this very seriously. We believe it's high time for the federal government to delist the wolf in Minnesota. We need to get the wolf under state control, so we can better manage the population."

With the wolf under federal protection, landowners may not shoot a wolf doing damage to property, including livestock or pets.

Gary Nohrenberg, Minnesota state director of the USDA Wildlife Services in St. Paul, said in an e-mail to DNR and Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials Monday that the program's operations are "in effect on a day-by-day basis. This means we could be instructed to cease all wolf management activities with very little or no advance notice."

DNR officials also are seeking an expedited delisting of the wolf in Minnesota, Landwehr said. As part of the federal budget agreement announced Friday, wolves in Montana and Idaho were delisted, he said.

"If they (federal authorities) don't have the money to continue a federal control program, they should turn the management back to the state, and we'd take over control," Landwehr said.

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