Worrying about wolves
LANCASTER, Minn. -- As Bruce Weleski slogs through his saturated feedlot, a nasty brew of mud and manure, relief is in his voice. Calving season means little sleep and big worries. But calving recently has ended, with 116 wobbly-legged calves to ...
LANCASTER, Minn. -- As Bruce Weleski slogs through his saturated feedlot, a nasty brew of mud and manure, relief is in his voice.
Calving season means little sleep and big worries. But calving recently has ended, with 116 wobbly-legged calves to show for it, a rainbow mix of Hereford, Angus and Charolais breeds.
At his side are his two Australian shepherd herding dogs, the weary veteran Shep and the eager newcomer Maggie. "Shep is my pride and joy," Weleski says. "When Shep dies, we're going to throw a funeral."
He doesn't have similar affection for all four-legged animals, most notably gray wolves. They're the reason that his relief will be short-lived. The calves and their mothers will soon be put out to pasture, away from the safety of the feedlot that's adjacent to the family home.
"The calves are still dumb when they go to pasture," Weleski said. "And it takes into July before they're big enough to handle themselves."
In the last 10 years, he said, wolves have killed six of his calves. The latest loss was May 29, 2010, happening about a quarter-mile from his home. A photograph shows the carcass, with only the head, hooves and skeleton remaining.
Most livestock producers in this heavily wooded area, about 10 miles from Canada, have had similar episodes. But those days may soon be over. That's because the Obama administration recently announced plans to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act protection list.
"I'm happy about that because it leaves me the option to shoot a wolf without spending time in jail," Weleski said. "It leaves me more authority to protect my livelihood.
"I hate them. They're just trouble. I think there should be an open season on them."
DNR relaxes some rules
The federal wolf program stirred a backlash from agriculture and sporting groups angry over attacks on livestock and big game herds. Dan Stark, the wolf expert with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, warns that the delisting process probably won't be official until early 2012. As has happened before, it could be stalled further if it gets tied up in the courts.
The DNR will assume wolf management in Minnesota when the federal delisting process is done. "I want to emphasize that our plan is what is allowed when the process is finalized," Stark said. "Until then, the same rules apply."
The DNR plan, approved by the Legislature, divides the state's wolf range into two zones. In Zone A -- the northeast corner of the state that has the most wolves -- the rules won't change dramatically.
Zone A landowners still won't legally be able to take matters into their own hands. And the killing of depredating wolves is limited to situations of immediate threat or after the DNR's verification of losses of livestock, domestic animals or pets. Only trained predator controllers can kill a wolf and only within a one-mile radius of the damage site and within 60 days of the incident.
In Zone B -- the rest of state outside the northeast corner -- landowners have more options. Documentation of an immediate threat or verified loss is not required to kill a wolf. A wolf can be shot if it's in a pasture with livestock.
"It's more of a preventive approach rather than a reactive approach," Stark said.
Jerome Burkel, a Greenbush, Minn., feed mill operator, said some local cattle operators are still wary despite the delisting.
"The delisting is good news, but everyone's hoping the DNR doesn't make this situation more impossible," he said.
"People are fearful that the DNR will come in with tighter controls, or at least just as stringent controls. The fear is that they're going to put up a lot of walls at efforts to get rid of the timbers."
Stark, however, said the DNR recognizes that the wolf population has recovered to a healthy level.
Arnold Frame, a neighbor of Weleski, has lost at least four animals to wolves in the last two years. Another six calves are unaccounted for over the same period.
"Let everyone trap them," Frame said. "Just get rid of them."
Long history with wolves
Weleski's trouble with wolves didn't start with calves. Wolves also ended the family's sheep operation about 20 years ago.
"The wolves just literally ate us up," he said. "They'd kill a new bunch of lambs every night. One night, they took 12 lambs."
Despite that history, he was impressed when he observed a wolf last winter.
"The wolf was pretty, standing big and standing proud," he said. "But how can you consider something pretty when it's killing your livelihood?
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send email to email@example.com .