MINNEAPOLIS — The gray wolf has long been a cash cow for the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups, and when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced in Bloomington Thursday the government’s intent to remove the wolf from Endangered Species Act protection and return it to state management, the bank accounts of these organizations stood ready to benefit.
With about 2,700 wolves in Minnesota — about twice the number required for “recovered” status — the state is a poster child for conservation achievements that can be won for certain species under certain circumstances.
In the 1950s, only about 400 “timber” wolves roamed Minnesota, thanks mostly to decades of legal and illegal eradication efforts, including poisoning. Given that wolves throughout time have threatened humans’ welfare in fact and in fiction, efforts to kill these animals by whatever means necessary, especially during early settlement, were, in retrospect, understandable, albeit, in many cases, deplorable.
But when intensive killing efforts were stopped, especially by poisoning, wolves rebounded, and today recovered populations thrive in Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as in Minnesota.
Wolves have recovered in these states because northern portions of each feature the largely wooded environments wolves prefer, and because sufficient numbers of deer, moose, hunting dogs and other pets are available to satisfy the rather robust appetites of Canis lupus.
Bobolinks in Minnesota aren’t so lucky. Neither are meadowlarks. Or evening grosbeaks, tri-colored bats or Richardson’s ground squirrels.
Each is rare and a species of special concern in Minnesota, while many others, like the eastern spotted skunk and northern pocket gopher, are even more threatened.
No one has intentionally tried to eradicate any of these, as they did the wolf. Instead, like countless songbirds and other wildlife, they suffer in Minnesota because we, each of us, including our politicians, prefer to ignore them while we wipe out their habitats.
Kill insects that birds need to live by blanketing the land with herbicides and pesticides to grow bumper crops of corn and soybeans?
Poison our aquifers with fertilizers until we can’t drink from our wells or eat fish from our lakes?
Pave the suburbs, and beyond?
Those are the prices we pay, we figure, to put cheap food on our tables and roofs over our heads. And anyway, everyone knows that ag and developer lobbies rule the Legislature and the statehouse, and if plowing, ditching and paving are what they want to do — and, ultimately, by turning a blind eye, what we want them to do — let ‘em do it.
“They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot/They took all the trees/And put ‘em in a tree museum/And they charged the people/A dollar and a half to see ‘em.”
Joni Mitchell had it right in 1970, and she still does.
And yet ... we worry about the wolf, as cool an animal that exists in this state or any other. But one that, so long as it isn’t strychnined into oblivion, can largely take care of itself, while also — in an ironic twist that would befuddle Little Red Riding Hood — padding people’s bank accounts.
A recent tax filing by the Center for Biological Diversity, headquartered in Arizona, says the group had annual revenue of about $20 million. About $14 million of that was paid in salaries, with the group’s top three executives taking home nearly $300,000 apiece.
“Wolves will be shot and killed because Donald Trump is desperate to gin up his voters in the Midwest,” Brett Hartl, chief political strategist at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, chortled in an e-mail issued shortly after Bernhardt’s delisting announcement. “Secretary Bernhardt’s nakedly political theater announcing the end to wolf protections in a battleground state days before the election shows just how corrupt and self-serving the Trump administration is.”
And this from Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute: “By finalizing a rule to eliminate federal protections for gray wolves across the contiguous United States, the administration is once again putting politics ahead of conservation.”
Nettlesome Fact #1: If the Trump administration is playing politics with wolves, so did the Obama administration, which delisted the wild canines from ESA protection in 2011 — an action that was reversed by a federal court in 2014.
Nettlesome Fact #2: Politically suspect as the timing of Bernhardt’s announcement was, the delisting notice wasn’t a surprise. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said multiple times it expected to publish the action in the Federal Register by year’s end.
If the reclassification stands — federal court slugfests are a given — management of Minnesota’s wolves will return to the state Department of Natural Resources in about 60 days. When that happened in 2011, the DNR oversaw three successive regulated hunting and trapping seasons.
But times change.
So do governors.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has said he opposes sport hunting of wolves with his spokesman Teddy Tschann saying, “The governor stands by the Minnesota DNR’s written comments to the federal agency that delisting is the wrong decision for both ecological and cultural reasons in the Lower 48.”
Figures also that Walz didn’t say anything about bobolinks, meadowlarks, evening grosbeaks, tri-colored bats, Richardson’s ground squirrels or our continual assault on their habitats.