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Farmer groups celebrate return to state management of wolves

For Taylor County dairy farmer, Ryan Klussendorf, the announcement that gray wolves would be delisted from Endangered Species Act protections couldn’t have come too soon.

Klussendorf, whose livestock have suffered from wolf depredation, was among the dignitaries who attended the ceremony held in Bloomington, Minn. on October 29 where Department of Interior officials announced the delisting for the Great Lakes Region. The action returns management of wolf populations from the federal government to the state governments and tribes.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, announcing the delisting. The announcement kicks off a 60-day comment period at the end of which the wolves will be offi cially delisted.

The reintroduction and growth in wolf populations in Wisconsin and the region has been a closely watched issue for many area farmers and outdoorsmen as well as state and national politicians.

“I’m pleased the Trump administration is listening to guidance from wildlife experts and scientific data and delisting gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act,” said U.S. Senator Ron Johnson praising the action. “I’ve fought for Wisconsin’s farmers, ranchers, hunters, and land owners to delist the gray wolf through multiple pieces of legislation and amendments since 2015, but Congress has repeatedly failed to act. Though the administration’s decision is the right one, it will undoubtedly face legal challenges from irrational activists as past attempts at delisting have. To ensure this policy isn’t obstructed, Congress must do its job and act to codify it.”

Klussendorf agreed with Johnson that Congress needed to take action to codify the delisting into law. He notes that Rep. Tom Tiffany has introduced legislation that will do that and urges people to contact his office and show their support for it.

Klussendorf attended the delisting ceremony as a representative of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation (WFBF). The group, which represents the interests of farmers and rural residents has supported the delisting of wolves for a long time.

“It has been a long time coming,” Klussendorf said, noting that to get to this point took a great deal of time and effort.

Wisconsin’s gray wolf population has grown from 14 in 1985 to more than 1,000 as of the latest DNR count in the spring of 2020. This is not the first attempt to delist gray wolves in the state. In 2013, under the Obama administration, delisting was attempted and then pushed back through legal action.

Klussendorf said officials are confident that they have taken the time to make sure the process was done correctly and that the delisting will survive a judicial review. “They feel they did it right,” Klussendorf said.

For Klussendorf, the change makes it easier for farmers to protect their livestock and families. He noted that wolves are showing they are not afraid of humans anymore and have expanded beyond the initial territories in Wisconsin’s northern forest regions to doing damage in places such as Pittsville.

“We are seeing wolves standing in driveways because they aren’t afraid of humans anymore,” Klussendorf said. Be delisting, he said farmers and residents will be able to use lethal forces to protect people and livestock without fear of being prosecuted for doing so.

“The farmers don’t want to see them eradicated again,” Klussendorf said noting he feels wolves have a place in the state’s ecosystem and supports there being a wolf population in the state. However, he was concerned that wolves would spread their territory into more populated centers.

Klussendorf anticipates the state will seek to control population through hunting as was proposed in the past. He said the state is currently missing out on a revenue stream from hunting. Wolves are managed through hunting in western states.

In total, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000 wolves, greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.