Bill could oust wolves from endangered list

by Rob Kuznia

Wolves and livestock don’t mix.
Just ask Dick LeCocq, president of the Minnesota Cattleman’s Association.
And before people became concerned about the possibility of wolf extinction, the quick fix to this problem was to kill as many wolves as possible.
“The most effective way to do that was mass poisoning,” said wildlife biologist and adjunct University professor David Mech while showing a slide depicting a sickly-looking pack of wolves lying in the snow to a crowd of about 100 people at the Great Minnesota Debate in Willey Hall Thursday.
By 1970, such methods completely wiped out the wolf from every state except Minnesota, where only 500 remained, he said.
So in 1974, the 500 wolves were put on the endangered species list as “threatened,” which barred the hunting and trapping of the animals.
Since then, the wolf population erupted, causing problems for many farmers in northern Minnesota.
“It would be nice to have a few wolves around if they’d behave themselves, but they don’t,” LeCocq said.
In 1974, when just 500 wolves remained, there were no reported livestock casualties, he said. But the casualties have steadily increased in tandem with the wolf-population explosion. Last year, the wolves numbered more than 2,400, while the livestock toll exceeded 118, he said.
“But that is just the number of livestock that are confirmed killed,” LeCocq said. “Most are never found, because the wolves eat them. It can be days, sometimes weeks, before you realize anything is missing.”
Senator Gary Laidig, R-Stillwater, spoke in support of the Wolf Management Bill, which was devised by a roundtable agreement.
According to the agreement, wolves would be removed from the endangered species list, but could not be hunted for five years.
“This would allow farmers to kill the wolves that attack their livestock without seeking permission from the federal trappers,” said Nancy Gibson, co-founder of International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.
But many members of the farming community took their names off the agreement when new research showed just how many wolves exist in the state.
“We didn’t want to sign in the agreement in the first place,” said LeCocq. “We were coerced into it, because we were told that de-listing couldn’t even occur otherwise.”
LeCocq also said that it was impossible to single out any given wolf perpetrator, because they travel in packs.
At the debate, Mech reiterated this point, saying it’s necessary to kill entire packs because it’s the best way to maintain the population, which already exceeds the recommended number.
According to a study in 1992, 10 biologists agreed that the wolf population should fall between 1,250 and 1,400.
LeCocq said this study jibed with reality. In 1979, when only 1,235 wolves roamed Minnesota, farmers lost only 8 head of cattle.
This reasoning has caused the Legislature to abandon the five-year moratorium on hunting wolves, according to an information sheet published by the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.
This, in turn, has angered environmentalists, who expected that the roundtable agreement would be kept.
In a newsletter, the Sierra Club urges members to write letters to local newspapers discouraging “wolf killing” bills.