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Minnesota congressman's effort de-list wolves stuck in Congress

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson. File photo / Forum News Service1 / 2
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U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson says he has the votes on the House floor to pass a bill removing federal protection for gray wolves across the Great Lakes region.

He just can't get the bill to the floor.

His bill — with co-sponsors from both parties across the wolf range in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan — has cleared a committee but remains in congressional limbo.

"I know we can pass it, but we can't get through the'' House process, said Peterson, D-Minnesota. He represents northwestern Minnesota, where wolf critics say attacks on livestock have become more frequent.

Part of the problem lies in Peterson's party, with Republican majority rules not allowing a Democrat's bill to the floor that is controversial. But when Peterson tried to get a Republican to take the bill over, he didn't find any takers.

Efforts came close to including the wolf delisting provision in the massive U.S. budget bill that passed the House and Senate and was signed by President Trump in late March. But the language removing wolves from Endangered Species Act protection was stricken from the spending bill, as were similar "riders'' on other endangered species and natural resource issues.

Even if Peterson's bill passes the House on its own it's unlikely to advance in the Senate, he conceded. But at least a House vote would make it more likely to be included in "one of the must pass bills they need to get through" later this year, he said.

"We're kind of stuck. But I'm not giving up. I'm going to keep trying," Peterson said in a telephone interview earlier this month.

Until then, wolves remain under a December 2014 court order keeping them federally protected across the region based on the original, 1978 federal wolf protection rule. That district court decision was upheld last September by an Appeals Court ruling effectively saying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn't properly consider additional wolf territory when it delisted wolves in just Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in late 2011. The appellate court agreed, saying U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials would have to prove they researched the impact of wolf delisting in the three Great Lakes states on wolf restoration across the eastern U.S.

That hasn't happened.

Meanwhile, no party involved in the court battle — not cattle farmers nor deer hunters nor state wildlife agencies nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — appealed the U.S. Supreme Court decision, and the deadline for appeal has passed.

"That case is settled. And unless the agency goes back and starts over, wolves will remain federally protected across the Great Lakes region,'' said Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney at The Humane Society of the United States.

So far, the federal agency has given no indication it wants to start over on the years-long process of rulemaking. So, supporters of delisting wolves have turned to Congress for legislation that would bypass the courts.

At least for now, they have failed, "and we are breathing a sigh of relief for wolves,'' Frostic said.

But she quickly noted that the current budget bill only runs through Sept. 30. Congress already is working on a 2019 budget bill that would take effect Oct. 1 — one of those must-pass bills Peterson spoke of. Frostic said there almost certainly will be effort by Peterson and others to get a wolf delisting measure in a new bill.

"It does seem that this is going to be an annual, or almost continual, battle,'' Frostic said. "As long as there are people who don't want wolves around, we have to be ready for anything."

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