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Wolves in the Great Lakes Region—It’s Time for a Change
Posted on 11/09/2010 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

On Saturday September 18, 2010, Chris Stoppelman and Kila Butler were running their hounds, CH NITECH ‘PR’ Zimmerman’s Pep-E and NITECH GRCH Clawson Tall Tree Barney in a hunt with the Northwest Minnesota Houndsmen Association, with guide Brandon Oien. The hunt was going great until the third drop. Chris and Kila could hear the hounds open up near a big bog swamp, and the next thing they heard was a fight break out. Chris’s hound was then silent, and it sounded like Kila’s hound Barney was trying to make his way back, but was stopping to bark along the way and didn’t sound normal. Chris started the 8 minute rule and decided that once that expired they would head back to the truck and drive around the swamp to locate the dogs. The 8 minutes ran and they hightailed it to the truck. Once they were close they could hear Kila’s dog Barney growling. Barney had bite marks all over him. Kila got him to load, but he continued growling in his box. Chris pulled out his tracking system for Pep-E and they headed down the road.

Pep-E wasn’t moving. All three felt as if something was very wrong, and were fearful of heading into the dark swamp. Chris had trouble with his tracker. Finally, Brandon noticed the green blinking light from the tracking collar, coming from the ground. Chris flipped his light on him, and says he’s lucky there was a tree behind him to brace him for the sight. Pep-E was lying dead, completely destroyed, on the ground. All the while they could hear brush breaking around them. Chris decided to pull Pep-E’s collars, and leave his hound there to preserve the scene for DNR officials. The following morning an officer came to conduct an investigation. Tracks surrounded the area where Pep-E’s body lay, and it was officially confirmed that the dog was killed by wolves.

Wolves are federally protected in the Great Lakes region. In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was created, which gave the Secretary of the Interior the authority to designate certain species as protected. Species are designated as either endangered or threatened. Endangered means they have the highest level of protection and also that it’s illegal to “take,” or kill, any members of that group. Threatened species are afforded a little bit less protection and are identified to have potential to become endangered. Rules for defensive “take” of threatened species may be created, but is closely regulated and monitored. In 1978, it was determined that wolves were nearly extinct in most of the lower 48 states, and wolves were then listed as endangered, except in Minnesota where they were listed as threatened. The wolf population in the Great Lakes states has increased dramatically since that protection was added. In 2003, the US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) reclassified the wolf as threatened in the Great Lakes region, which would allow states more lenience with depredation controls, meaning more control with problem wolves. Unfortunately, FWS was overruled in court in 2005 and the depredation programs were halted. In 2006, FWS issued a depredation permit to the state of Wisconsin, where the wolves were becoming a problem. The Humane Society of the United States and other animal rights groups intervened with legal action. The court found that the reason given for the depredation permits--specifically that if the problem wolves weren’t controlled, then public perception and support for wolf protection would diminish-- was not compelling enough to allow the permit.

Also in 2006, FWS found that the wolf populations were recovered, and delisted wolves. FWS was overruled again and the wolves were reinstated in 2008. In 2009, FWS attempted yet AGAIN to delist the wolves, but were stopped by yet another lawsuit filed by HSUS. This time the court ruled in favor of HSUS due only to a technicality—that FWS did not follow proper administrative procedure and did not provide for a proper public comment period. Currently, the wolf is protected in the Great Lakes region, but I’ll focus on Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan as those are the states most affected.

The wolf is listed as threatened in Minnesota, and therefore is afforded a little less protection than in the other two states. The wolf population in Minnesota is at approximately 3,000. The Minnesota DNR may take depredation action, meaning wolves that attack livestock and pets may be dealt with in various ways. Minnesota is divided into two Zones: Zone A, which is the northeastern part of the state, and Zone B, which is the rest of the state. In Zone A, wolves that are verified to have killed livestock, domestic animals, and pets will be killed, by using professional, state certified trappers/hunters. In Zone B, killing of wolves may be done for protection. Documentation of a verified loss is not required, but a state certified predator controller must be used. Statewide, anyone may “harass” a wolf that comes within 500 yards of people, buildings, dogs, livestock, or other domestic pets or animals. “Harass” means any actions that annoy or deter wolves that does not result in physical injury. Owners of animals may shoot or destroy when wolves pose an immediate threat to their livestock, pets, or other domestic animals. An immediate threat means a wolf is observed IN THE ACT of stalking, attacking, or killing.If the wolf is not observed, the presence of a wolf feeding on a dead animal is not considered a threat. A person who kills a wolf under this rule must protect and report all evidence. However, in Zone B, the condition of “immediate threat” is not required, so lethal action may be taken against wolves at any time to protect livestock, pets, and other domestic animals. However, illegally killing a wolf will result in $2000 per wolf for restitution, a maximum $3000 fine, and up to one year in county jail.

As to compensation for loss of animals due to wolves, only livestock animals are compensated for. Interestingly, the Minnesota Wolf Management Plan, created in 2001, states in the executive summary that the management program would include compensation payments to owners of livestock AND dogs. The 1998 Wolf Management Roundtable recommended a compensation program for dogs and guardian animals (animals that live with flocks for protection—such as guardian dog breeds, llamas, donkeys, etc.) The Roundtable also recommended that vet costs be included as well. The cap for livestock was set for $750, and the same was recommended for guardian animals. The cap for dogs was recommended to be $500. No cap was mentioned for vet costs. What happened between the Roundtable recommendations and actual implementation of the program, I have no idea. However, the idea of compensation for dogs lost to wolves was at one time acknowledged and thoroughly discussed yet somehow disappeared.

In Michigan and Wisconsin, wolves are still listed as endangered, which means that landowners cannot take wolves. Wolf depredation is government managed in both states and what control measures that need to be taken are decided by DNR and FWS officials. Both Michigan and Wisconsin have filed applications for permits to conduct research, monitoring, and management of wolves within the states as of April 2010. The applications request authorization to conduct activities that would include lethal and non-lethal take of wolves that attack livestock and pets. Both states have more than met their recovery goals for wolf populations. The original criteria set in 1992 called for a combined Michigan/Wisconsin population of 100 wolves for 5 consecutive years. The current wolf population in Michigan and Wisconsin exceeds the recovery goal by more than ten times: there are approximately 600 wolves in Michigan and an estimate of more than 700 wolves in Wisconsin.

There have been depredation problems in both Wisconsin and Michigan that need to be more aggressively managed. Wisconsin is the only state in the Great Lakes region that compensates dog owners for loss due to wolves. Michigan only compensates livestock owners (interestingly enough, livestock seems to include deer breeders.) From 1996 to 2007, there have been 40 verified wolf attacks on dogs; 43% of those were bear hounds in the field in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Wisconsin has paid out a great deal of money for hunting dogs and pets over the years, and seems to have more dog losses. However, I wonder if that number is higher because Wisconsin actually compensates dogs owners, and therefore more attacks are reported and verified. From 1985 to date, Wisconsin has paid out for 164 hounds lost to wolves, 32 payments for vet bills associated with wolf-hound attacks, 29 payments for pet dogs lost to wolves, and 44 payments for vet bills of pet dog wolf attacks. All in all, Wisconsin has paid out a total of $432,122 for wolf depredation just for dogs. In 2010 alone, there have been 10 hounds attacked by wolves and 13 pet dogs attacked by wolves.

All three states and FWS are in agreement that the recovery goal for wolves has more than been satisfied, and all are seeking to delist wolves. The wolf population is very high in all three states, and they’re spreading. Where wolves used to only be found in the UP of Michigan, they are now moving south. A wolf pup was captured, collared, and released in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan earlier this year, following verification of a wolf pack in the LP. A wolf was shot in Northwestern Ohio, and a wolf that was collared and tagged in Michigan’s UP was found in Missouri! Michigan has even gone so far as to consider a potential legal harvest once wolves are delisted.

To all of you hunters and dog owners, here’s your chance to do something and to let your voice be heard! The FWS, as of September 14, 2010, has announced that it will begin an in-depth 90-day review, during which time public comments may be submitted. Submit your views on protection of wolves! Comments may be submitted by two methods:

1. Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the box that reads “Enter Keyword or ID,” enter the Docket number for this finding, [FWS-R3-ES-2010-0062]. Check the box that reads “Open for Comment/Submission,” and then click the Search button. You should then see an icon that reads “Submit a Comment.” Please ensure that you have found the correct rulemaking before submitting your comment.

2. U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS-R3-ES-2010-0062] Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

Comments must be received by November 15, 2010. Remember Chris and Kila, and the countless others who have lost their dogs to wolves, and take the time to support them by voicing your concerns.