[Ed. Note: Email from Dan Stark, August 15, 2011, Wolf Specialist, Division of Fish and Wildlife, State of Minnesota: "There are about 3,000 wolves in MN....Wolves are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and are a protected wild animal in Minnesota with no open season.]
By Dr. Michael W. Fox,
THE ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS OF MINNESOTA’S WOLVES IS ENDANGERED
I sent the following Letter to the Editor, the Star Tribune (in Minneapolis, MN) on Nov 19th, 2010 (which was not published).
“Re; Question of wolves is again at our door (Nov 17th). Thanks to Ms. Giese and the Center for Biological Diversity for this article pointing out that a handful of Minnesotans want to take away the legal protection of the Federal Endangered Species Act from the Great Lakes wolves.
This is surely outrageous to most reasonable, if not also caring people, since the protection of the wolf by our government was a democratically agreed upon decision. For the U.S. government (Fish and Wildlife Service) to support these vested interests by taking the indigenous wolves off the protected species list would be anti-democratic at best; and closer to the kind of ecological anarchy with a bio-warfare mentality that is already casting a long shadow across the beginning of this century.
As Ms. Giese points out, there are many ways of dealing with wolf-human conflicts without having to resort to removing the wolves’ legal protections, which will mean escalated killing, and then wolf fur will back in fashionable vengeance to once again offend the public eye.
I was not very surprised to read in the Nov. 20th Star Tribune a rebuttal to lawyer-conservationist Gies’ article, entitled “Setting the record straight on wolves” from the Director of the International Wolf Center, (IWC) founded by Dr. David Mech who debated me at a public meeting convened by the Wild Canid Research & Survival Center some years ago in St. Louis over his opposition to ever putting the North American Timber Wolf on the Endangered Species list. The current IWC executive director Mary Oritz endorses the de-listing of the Eastern Gray Timber wolf from the Endangered Species Act protections in favor of MDNR (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) management which she says “would continue to protect wolves for at least five years after federal delisting.”
According to Minnesotan Karlyn Atkinson Berg of HOWL (Help Our Wolves Live), there is nothing written to prevent the hunting of wolves during this time period, and that reporter Doug Smith was on the mark when he told me that “a limited season for hunting wolves will come after that time.”
I find this no less offensive as a wolf ethologist and conservationist (author of the Soul of the Wolf) than Ms. Oritz and the International Wolf Center dismissing the parvovirus threat to wolf populations and packs. This is one of several disease transmitted by infected free-roaming and feral dogs and possibly cats, which the MDNR needs to address, along with diseases transmitted by livestock to deer and other wild herbivores. As a veterinarian I am familiar with the diseases domestic animals transmit to wildlife for which wildlife are often exterminated for fear of them re-infecting livestock.
This is a vicious circle indeed, which Ms.Oritz would see as a management issue rather than as an ethical dilemma because it is almost always resolved by extermination. Putting out birth-control-drug- laced baits is an alternative population management tool, but fraught with some ecological, non-target animal, and target-animal health and behavioral consequences with possible secondary effects on pack dynamics and integrity.
The widespread broadcasting of bait containing genetically engineered live rabies virus to ostensibly stop the spread of rabies in various wild carnivore populations across the U.S. warrants some basic research safety determinations because of non-target species infection, and possible viral recombination and mutation. This could lead to this virus being spread without animals having to be bitten by a rabid animal.
Ms. Oritz’s contention that “The court rulings against federal wolf delisting
were based on legal technicalities, not biological considerations” is based on
her assumption that having an estimated 4,000 wolves in the entire states of
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan is way above the “officially approved
biological recovery level in 1978.”
Considering the numbers of managed deer herds that are harvested by hunters in these states, it is little wonder that hunter-displaced wolves might come to prey on cattle and other livestock. In the opening weekend for firearms hunters of Minnesota’s deer season in 2010, the Star Tribune reported the killing of 90,000 Whitetail deer, with a season total kill estimate of 200,000.((Nov.10th, 2010). Star Tribune Outdoors reporter of these figures, Doug Smith, told me that there would be an additional deer killing by bow hunters totaling an additional 20,000 deer, based on figures for 2009.
I would say let the wolves assume a greater role in deer-herd ‘management’, and let the wild forests return and heal. Cut back the hunters first before the old growth trees, and let the wolves remain on the Endangered Species list because they are under constant threat of human encroachment, conflict and retaliation. It is time for rapprochement, for more ‘biophilia’ to quote Harvard biologist-conservationist Prof. E. O. Wilson, and an end to biological warfare which is surely not justified when there are only 4,000 wolves in these three states, a number which some wolf biologists and conservationists believe to be highly questionable. Ms. Berg with HOWL, lamenting the lack of public education about the wolf to raise awareness and appreciation of the environmental values of this species, a primary, natural and superior wildlife and ecosystem manager to any DNR writes to me that “If the public knew how poorly population counts were taken, that wolf mortality is under estimated and is even missing from the calculations here, they would know the number is questionable. In Minnesota (the worst offender) population counts are based upon "opinion surveys", peripheral information from studies of other species, and ancient extrapolations; hence little science is being used to come up with these numbers.”
It was the Minnesota DNR that was the first to petition the U.S. government to de-list the Eastern Gray Timber wolf in March 2010 (See Federal Register Vol.75, No.177, Tuesday, Sept 14, 2010/Proposed Rules, p 55730-55735), this state being the core domain of this species. In April the Wisconsin DNR followed suit, and then in May the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, representing five other organizations, requested that the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes area be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species under the Act. In June the Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association joined forces in a similar petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Of the three states involved, the Minnesota DNR management plans are the worst since they do not mandate any effective, humane management practices; permit the killing of wolves in the act of “stalking” livestock on private property, and has a $150 bounty for killing wolves in depredation control areas. The superior Michigan DNR management plan includes public education and helping ranchers implement appropriate husbandry practices, while Wisconsin DNR states that it “will focus on prevention and mitigation rather than wolf removal. Public education and proactive measures to reduce wolf predation are non existent in the Minnesota DNR management plan, a point emphasized in the Nov 15th 2010 Comments to the U.s. Fish and Wildlife by Washington DC based Defenders of Wildlife. But this organization clearly contradicts its own name by supporting the de-listing of the Eastern Gray Timber wolf from the Endangered Species Act to permit killing as a management tool and inevitably wolf hunting and trapping.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, endorses the de-listing of the wolf, and is quoted as saying that increasing numbers could “threaten residents, livestock, and the state’s hunting industry, which contributes over $600 million a year to Minnesota’s economy.” (quotation from the Star Tribune, Dec 11, 2010 p.A8). This underscores the deer hunters’ competition with wolves which she clearly wants to protect in perpetuity by reportedly sponsoring a bill to block all future legal challenges to the de-listing of wolves.
The relentless persecution of the North American wolf and other wild carnivores---from the California cougar and the Florida panther to the Black footed ferret, wily Coyote and Grizzly and Brown bears by the livestock industry has been paid for by the public for decades. State and federal governments have waged biological warfare on these species in total disregard for the suffering and devastating ecological consequences of their anarchy. Currently, farmers and ranchers are compensated from the public coffers for livestock lost to wolves but not for losses from coyotes, weather or disease, so what’s the beef?
Cattle ranchers grazing their animals almost for free on our public lands even have the Bureau of Land Management eliminate competing wild mustangs from the range, while entire Prairie dog colonies are sucked out by giant vacuum cleaners.
The shooting, trapping, snaring, clubbing, poisoning, den-bombing, cyanide-gunning and hunting-dog assisted killing of wild carnivores are outmoded wildlife management practices devoid of either scientific credibility or bioethical validity. The adoption of appropriate, non-lethal predation-minimizing farmed animal husbandry practices by farmers and ranchers, whose free-range animals may be at risk, should be mandatory: And only when in place should there be any compensation for wildlife pathologist certified livestock losses due to predation.
The vast majority of Americans who supported the Endangered Species Act for the protection of wolves and other dwindling species should not be betrayed by their government choosing to aid and abet continued ecological anarchy by a few who have no regard for all that is wild and part of the spirit of North America, the natural heritage of all citizens of this magnificent continent. A sustainable economy and the rule of law, especially as they pertain to eco-justice and the inherent value of wolves and all living beings, demand no less.
Neither congress nor the Obama administration should permit the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service to pander to those state interests bent on having Canis lupus de-listed as an endangered species because it will mean redoubled persecution, killing for sport, and, inevitably, more wolves being trapped and poisoned. The ethical, caring majority of U.S. citizens who continue to support the protection of endangered species and the conservation, restoration and preservation (CPR) of their habitats should not be betrayed.
I urge all concerned citizens to contact their state representatives in Congress to let their voice of opposition to the de-listing of the Eastern Gray Timber wolf be heard by all who are responsible for the integrity and continued enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, and do not undermine its intent as an enduring legacy for this nation to embrace as a significant advance in civilization..
Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he
who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
- Henry David Thoreau
More than one hunter has said to me “We have to shoot them to save them.” I see this rationalization as a recently adopted justification derived from the quasi-science of wildlife management as practiced by most state Departments of Natural Resources. This essentially entails the manipulation of ecosystems to expedite the profitable farming and harvesting of lumber, deer and other wildlife and natural products. What indeed is wild when 650,000 deer hunters go onto state and federal lands during the annual November harvesting in Minnesota alone? This segment of society supports highly lucrative outdoors equipment and hunting supply industry that has a vested interest in seeing wolves hunted once more, and that there are plenty of deer for license paying consumers to go out and kill especially when wolf numbers are kept low.
Safari trophy hunters tell me in one voice “Wildlife must pay its own way.” There are alternatives and choices to be made, regardless of the atavistic imperatives and gratification of being a hunter. Seeing beyond the strength of the wolf being the strength of the pack, the strength of the pack is the strength of the gene pool and the ecosystem. Our collective will to avoid harming and injuring and practice CPR, locally as well as globally---Conservation, Preservation and Restoration---is what is now called for, particularly with the consequences of climate change.
Specifically in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and the Western Great Lakes region, the ecological role of the wolf, properly utilized, would greatly benefit the deer population, forest vegetation and natural biodiversity, and make many current ‘management’ practices, including having to kill in order to save, redundant. Minnesota’s proposal for a $150.00 bounty on all wolves killed in designated ‘depredation control’ areas is a step back in time, inviting a virtual slaughter of wolves in other areas since kill-locations can be easily fudged.
I must add a note about the suffering of hundreds of thousands of captive, cage-crazed carnivores being raised for their fur in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the nation’s top producer of mink This aspect of wildlife farming has no place in a civilized society, nor do the commercial puppy mills in Minnesota, one of the top ten states producing pure- breed dogs under conditions similar to those of the farmed fox and mink.
TIGER CONSERVATION FARMING & HARVESTING NEXT?
The tiger is disappearing, and largesse won’t help (Star Tribune Nov 27)—It is reported that the Tiger may soon be bred in captivity for commercial, body-part products for the Chinese market, where it can mean a death sentence today for trading in ‘medicinal’ tiger parts. This rationalized captive breeding is in order to save the few thousand remaining tiger populations in India, China and Russia where poaching continues because the market is so lucrative, and where these wild populations may never recover because of human encroachment.
But surely, stopping human encroachment and declaring all medicinal tiger parts and products illegal would negate the need for captive breeding except for reintroduction purposes in habitat conservation and restoration. The commoditization of the Tiger through large-scale commercial breeding for its body parts is yet another sad reflection of our degenerate condition, and should be opposed by all concerned. At best to is a “win win” feel-good diplomatic compromise for the major players involved---but not for the endangered species in question, like the Defenders of Wildlife agreeing to permit the resumption of wolf hunting and trapping as part of a Minnesota state DNR conservation management program. The next step for the wolf may well be as for the tiger, being farmed like other animals raised to maturity in rows of tiny cages for their fur, of which I have photo documentation from Minnesota in the 1960s before the wolf was protected under the ESA.
Dr. Michael W. Fox is a well-known veterinarian, former vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, former vice president of Humane Society International and the author of more than 40 adult and children’s books on animal care, animal behavior and bioethics. He is also a graduate veterinarian from the Royal Veterinary College, London, whose research lead to a PhD (Medicine) and a DSc (ethology/animal behavior) from the University of London, England.