Herald editorial board
Potential good news comes for Minnesota ranchers who essentially are being forced to sit on their hands while wolves ravage their livestock.
Thursday, the U.S. Interior Department moved forward on a plan to remove federal protections for gray wolves, which have gone from near extinction in the 1960s and '70s to what we consider a healthy population - and especially in northern Minnesota. It's still early in the process and will require weeks of public comment and, likely, fierce debate.
When wolves outside of Alaska first were declared endangered in 1975, there were fewer than 1,000, all in northeastern Minnesota. Now, estimates put the population at around 5,000 in the upper Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountain regions. That includes an estimated 2,850 in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. While wolves haven't necessarily seen great population increases elsewhere in the nation, they are thriving in northern Minnesota.
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Thursday that "the facts are clear and indisputable - the gray wolf no longer meets the definition of a threatened or endangered species. Today the wolf is thriving on its vast range and it is reasonable to conclude it will continue to do so in the future."
This action likely will come as an exciting development for northern Minnesota ranchers who have been losing valuable livestock to wolves. In Kittson County, the local sheriff's office did its own study and found 21 confirmed wolf-related cattle kills in 2017 - a number that probably is too conservative since many missing cattle cannot be conclusively linked to wolf predation.
Statewide, DNR statistics show there were 93 claims for wolf-killed livestock in 2017. Producers are reimbursed an average of $1,000 for each animal proven to be killed by wolves, but absolute proof can be about as scarce as positive movement in this long, drawn-out saga.
According to reporting from the Duluth News Tribune, President Trump's administration is the fourth straight administration to try to delist wolves from endangered species status. Each time, the efforts have been blocked by environmentalists and federal courts.
Proponents claim wolves haven't adequately recovered across their traditional range, and also that they aren't adversely affecting livestock - even in Minnesota. They cite statistics that show miniscule wolf predation numbers statewide.
Yet, using statewide numbers is a flawed practice, since cattle on the ranges down near Worthington and Albert Lea, Minn., are entirely safe from wolf predation due to their long distance from wolf range. It's a much different story up in Kittson County.
This latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposal would revoke the endangered and threatened status and give oversight to state wildlife agencies. Public comment will last through May 14.
This is the appropriate way forward, and we hope the proposal is approved. The wolf population still needs to be protected, but doing so at the state level is the best alternative.
We trust the Minnesota DNR - true wildlife professionals - with the immediate future of the state's wolf population.