Livestock producers, deer hunters and many others concerned with a gray wolf delisting proposal participated in a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service-sponsored public hearing last Tuesday in Brainerd.

Individuals from across Minnesota and the United States packed the Franklin Arts Center Auditorium for a public hearing which went well past the 9 p.m. scheduled conclusion.

“I have seen this rodeo many times before,” said Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin. “Public hearings are a standard part of the delisting process before removing federal ESA protection. This is the fourth time since 2007 that USFWS has worked through the wolf delisting process. The three previous efforts resulted in delisting Minnesota’s wolves, but eventually all three decisions were overturned by Washington, D.C. federal judges.”

About 80 individuals among the several hundred citizens attending the hearing decided to testify on the USFWS’s latest delisting proposal. A wide diversity of opinion was provided on the USFWS’s proposal to remove the wolf from federal Endangered Species Act protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as selected areas in the Rocky Mountains.

The message from cattlemen across Minnesota, the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states was consistent: The wolf populations met the federal recovery goals long ago, so please delist them now. The point was made over and over again that livestock producers simply want better management of problem wolves.

Cattlemen decried the current practice of reacting only after cattle or family pets are killed or maimed by wolves. They support a more proactive preventive approach which is possible under state management rules. Hunters, in particular deer hunters also stressed the need for a state wide comprehensive wildlife management plan that includes state management of the wolf.

“My testimony was focused on assuring the USFWS that Minnesota’s wolf management plan works well and will prevent Minnesota’s wolves from ever again needing federal protection,” Lueck said. “As a citizen, I was part of the DNR wolf roundtable that, back in 1998, developed the baseline for today’s Minnesota wolf management plan. We successfully operated that plan during the roughly two years wolves were most recently delisted. It’s a proven plan. I know it works.”

Those in opposition expressed concerns about the validity of the current wolf population numbers. For many years, both Minnesota and the federal government have agreed that wolf numbers far exceed the ESA recovery goals for delisting the wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Skepticism also was voiced about the ability of individual states to properly manage the wolves. Several from the Native American community explained the special significance the wolf has to their culture and heritage.

Others testified that they have lived side by side with wolves in rural areas for many years without any issue. Others opposed delisting, under the theory that more wolves would reduce the over abundant white tail deer population. That would reduce deer ticks and the potential for Lyme’s disease. Five state legislators from across central and northern Minnesota provided testimony in favor of returning the wolf manage back to the state.

The public comment period on the wolf delisting process closes July 15. Citizens still have an opportunity to submit online or letter comments on the plan to remove federal protections for wolves across the Great Lakes Region and in selected areas out west. For more information, or to comment on the plan, go to www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/

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