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Livestock producers allowed to 'take aim' at wolves

Gray wolves have once again been removed as a federally protected species, due to their recovery. (High Country Photography)

The ping-pong ball that has become the hallmark of wolf management efforts bounced once again.

On March 6, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar upheld a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species.

That once again places the Minnesota DNR in charge of wolf protection in the state. Primarily it will allow fed-up livestock producers to take aim against wolf packs that have been threatening their livelihoods.

"Here in wolf country we're pretty much sick of them," said Chuck Becker, a Nimrod area cattle rancher who has waged a 15-year battle with wolves.

"I approve of it 100 percent and so does everybody else in the livestock industry," Becker said. He hasn't kept track of his losses, "but around here locally, between me and my neighbors there was about 13 head disappeared last fall and one wolf pack was pretty much responsible as near as I can tell."

The Endangered Species Act has, intermittently, protected wolves living in the western Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountain states, including Minnesota.

"The recovery of the gray wolf throughout significant portions of its historic range is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act," Salazar said in a statement. "When it was listed as endangered in 1974, the wolf had almost disappeared from the continental United States. Today, we have more than 5,500 wolves, including more than 1,600 in the Rockies."

DNR wolf management specialist Dan Stark said he anticipates the rule de-listing wolves will be published in a week or so, then there's a 30-day wait before the rule takes effect.

"The state will resume state wolf management as it was prior to the wolf re-listing," he said.

In Zone A, the northeastern part of the state, including Park Rapids, "an individual can shoot a wolf posing an immediate threat to livestock or pets," Stark said. "An immediate threat is the behavior of a wolf stalking, attacking or killing that animal."

Depredation procedures are limited to the circumstances of the immediate threat and verified losses.

In Zone B, south of Park Rapids, "you can shoot a wolf to protect livestock and pets on land that you own, manage or lease," Stark said. But once again, there has to be an immediate threat. In Zone A you could shoot a wolf threatening you on public lands if you were out walking your dog or hunting with a dog threatened by a wolf, Stark said.

"But if it's not an immediate threat, that's an illegal action," Stark said.

"And under all these provisions they're required to report it within 48 hours."

The wolf recovery success was in large part due to an experiment to reintroduce wolf populations into Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Wolves were relocated from Canada to keep growing populations of elk and bison under control in the park. There are about 1,600 wolves there; 3,000 in Minnesota. Salazar cited those numbers in his announcement.

Wolves will remain endangered in states where the populations haven't increased significantly, but Minnesota isn't one.

And that makes Chuck Becker a happy man - for now.

The frustrated cattle producer hopes the de-listing will remain permanent this time. Under the federal act, which he vocally opposed in December when a court ruling placed wolves under protective status, his herd was at the mercy of the wolf pack that prowled his pastureland.

It was a federal crime to shoot a wolf under the Endangered Species Act.

Now Becker and his neighbors can protect their herds. But under the state law, they could be compensated for livestock losses. Because the state has been facing a $5 billion shortfall, Becker said he and his neighbors are still waiting for the compensation they feel is due from last fall. It hasn't come.