Friday, August 11, 2006

Judge blocks state from killing problem wolves

But some cattle ranchers might kill them illegally, group says

By LEE BERGQUIST - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A federal judge on Thursday stopped authorities in Wisconsin from killing problem wolves after animal welfare advocates said the practice violated the Endangered Species Act. The decision could spur the illegal shooting of wolves, a spokesman for cattle ranchers in Wisconsin said.

Meanwhile, authorities said they will stop killing wolves starting today on three farms in Burnett and Bayfield counties that are believed to be threatening livestock. So far this year, federal authorities have killed 18 gray wolves in Wisconsin under a special permit system approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency had allowed authorities to kill up to 43 wolves.

But Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sided with the Humane Society of the United States and other animal-rights groups by ruling that authorities could not kill wolves because of federal protections. "Simply put," she wrote in her decision, "the recovery of the gray wolf is not supported by killing 43 gray wolves."

The Humane Society applauded the decision. "What they were trying to do was illegal," said Karlyn Berg, a wolf consultant for the Humane Society. "You can't amend things to bypass the Endangered Species Act."

But Eric Koens, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association, said the decision means that some farmers will take matters into their own hands and illegally kill wolves. "It's happening already," Koens said. "We are trying to make a living, and we can't have wolves killing our livestock."

Adrian Wydeven, a wolf biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the agency was disappointed with the ruling. Wydeven agreed with Koens that the ruling would prompt some people who are frustrated with the Endangered Species Act to illegally shoot wolves.

The agency will try non-lethal methods to stop wolves that are believed to be killing and harassing livestock. Those methods include loud noises, placing flagging on fences to keep wolves from entering property and possibly firing rubber bullets at the animals.

The gray wolf was hunted and trapped out of existence by the 1950s but began wandering over from Minnesota in the mid-1970s, and since then slowly has rebounded. The estimated wolf population in Wisconsin conducted in late winter was 502 to 564 - the highest population since wolves returned to Wisconsin.

As numbers have risen, the DNR and the Fish and Wildlife Service have proposed removing protections for the wolf. State officials said the wolf could be removed from the list in early 2007. The chief rationale: Biologists believe that wolves have reached a point in Wisconsin where protections are no longer needed.

But Berg said the Humane Society is opposed to removing all protections for the wolf. "We have to find a better way to co-exist with the wolf," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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