Some two million wolves once prowled this continent's wilderness. By the 1970s, their numbers had shrunk to the thousands.
The Endangered Species Act afforded protection enough for the animals to attempt a comeback. It's estimated there are now about 10,000 gray wolves roaming the lower 48 states.
That's recovery enough, according to Minnesota Democratic Congressmen Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan.
The 72-year-old Peterson, who represents the state's largest and most rural district, stretching from the Canadian border to Marshall, is one of the authors of the "Gray Wolf Management Act." Nolan, whose constituency lives in Minnesota's northeastern arrowhead, is a co-sponsor.
The proposed legislation would gut federal regulations that say wolves can only be killed if they present imminent danger to human life or to safeguard conservation.
In Minnesota the animals are currently listed as threatened, not endangered. The designation allows for federal officials to trap and kill them near where livestock or pets have been killed or injured.
The Management Act would hand off federal stewardship of the Western Great Lakes region and Wyoming wolf populations to control of the states. This could mean farmers and pet owners alike are given license to shoot and kill with impunity.
"Choosing between protecting their livelihood or complying with a federal judicial decision is a choice no farmer should have to make," said Peterson in announcing the proposal last month. "The gray wolf population should be managed by the states, where it belongs."
Two U.S. District Court rulings in 2014 transferred management of gray wolves from state to the federal level.
Nolan spokesperson Samantha Bisogno tells City Pages that wolves "are no longer endangered." Thus, according to the lawmaker's January 23 newsletter, Minnesota officials should be granted the freedom "to employ tried and true conservation measures that would allow property owners to protect animals on their lands."
The numbers don't show the creatures are terrorizing land owners in the Land of 10,000 Lakes to any substantive degree. According to the DNR, between 2006 and 2012 there were 100 verified incidents where wolves killed or injured domesticated animals. In other words, wolves are a problem 14 times annually.
The lawmakers' push for an open season on wolves distresses officials from numerous environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, a one million-member nonprofit organization that advocates for protection of endangered species.
"The Endangered Species Act is the most powerful tool we have to protect rare wildlife," says spokesperson Collette Adkins. "What I've heard from staff of congressmen supporting the [Wolf Management] Act is they're getting pressure from livestock producers. They want additional tools to control wolves that create conflicts."
Peterson's bill is part of a broader congressional movement to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act.
Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened to brainstorm how to "modernize" the act. Three of the five people who were called to address the panel argued the 1973 federal law maligns the rights of states and those of private landowners.
The officials seeking to rollback wildlife safeguards have a sympathizer with the new administration. President Donald Trump has shown no willingness to add the disappearing rusty patched bumblebee to the endangered species list. This, despite the fact that the bees pollinate a variety of commercially grown plants and crops.
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