Great Lakes wolf stars in political drama
By Alice Rossignol
Nov. 3, 2009
As a boy, David Radaich’s father shot wolves that wandered onto the family cattle farm in northeast Minnesota.
Now a beef cattle producer himself, Radaich tries to deal with wolves in a legal and ethical way. But it’s not easy. “The challenge seems to be increasing in the last couple of years,” Radaich said.
He is one of many ranchers living in the most densely wolf-populated part of the country in the lower 48 states. Here ranchers deal with wolf-related legal policies, financial costs and psychological burdens.
They may lose hundreds of dollars for each calf that is killed by a wolf. Government reimbursement programs help, but ranchers cannot always prove that a wolf was the culprit.
In the Midwest, hunting wolves is illegal. Controversy shrouds the open wolf-hunt in western states and the Midwest has not been without its share of drama.
A bill before the U.S. Senate would allocate $727,000 to federal management programs to continue trapping problem wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. This law would also allow Minnesota wolves to be killed rather than simply relocated.
But much of the drama has revolved around whether the wolves should be delisted from the endangered species list.
The western Great Lakes gray wolf was put on the list in the early 1970s. The population since then has since grown from a few hundred to more than 4,000 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Minnesota wolves are more numerous and are listed as threatened while Michigan and Wisconsin wolves are labeled as endangered.
Recently, the debate whether to delist the western Great Lakes gray wolf from the endangered species act has become a tedious game of ping-pong.
In February 2007, it was delisted from the endangered species act. It was then reinstated in September 2008 when the Humane Society sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Another ruling was announced in April 2009 to delist the western Great Lakes gray wolf. Once again the Humane Society and four other wildlife protection groups sued and the wolf was reinstated this September.
The basis of the court order was that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service failed to provide opportunity for public comments before the delisting.
In a statement released last June, the Humane Society said that the delisting would be, “a decision that would have allowed hostile state wildlife agencies to subject the wolves to widespread and indiscriminate killings at the hands of state agents, farmers, and trophy hunters.”
“Wolves have been well recovered in the Great Lakes area and should be delisted,” said David L. Mech, a United State Geological Survey senior scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied wolves for more than fifty years.
The delisting process has begun once again and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hope to give opportunity for public comments this coming winter or summer.
It looks as though the ping-pong match is to continue.
Until a resolution, Radaich and other cattlemen use expensive and unreliable methods to control the wolves.
Radaich relies on the chance of wolves acquiring mange and respiratory viruses that control numbers. He has tried guard dogs but they are too often ineffective. And specialized fencing is too expensive to surround 1,200 acres of land.
Other than suffering financial losses when wolves kill young cattle in the spring, wolves also carry the parasite “neospora” that can cause cows to produce less milk, and give birth to smaller calves.
This parasite can also cause cows to spontaneously abort their fetuses.
Although loss due to spontaneous abortion affects about six to eight calves a season, Radaich fears unless wolves are controlled hundreds of cows will abort their fetuses, a devastating financial blow for ranchers.
“I’ve been patient with wolves,” said Radaich, “but that would cause a war.”