By Mayzie Purviance
Agriculture continuously goes head to head with adversity. Farmers are constantly in a close race against mother nature in attempts to get crops planted before rainfall. Dairy farmers are in an uphill battle attempting to educate the public that their practices are humane and keep their market foothold in a space becoming overwhelmed by mislabeled milk alternatives. Food scientists might as well be members of a food science fight club, repeatedly getting cold-clocked by anti-GMO advocates.
Ironically, one component that draws an abundance of criticism is wildlife, something agriculture historically protects, nurtures, and controls as part of the natural food chain. This past week, the industry found itself in a metaphorical cage match while facing protesters in Brainerd, Minnesota, at a public hearing on the Trump administration’s plan to strip gray wolves of their endangered species protections.
All for say, “aye”…
In a podcast produced by Beltway Beef, the official commentary of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Ed Frank, NCBA’s senior director of policy communications interviewed three individuals on the matter.
“Anyone that lives in wolf country can tell you that this species, which was placed on the endangered species list in 1974, has been recovered for some time,” Tanner Beymer, manager of government affairs for NCBA and Public Land’s Council, said. “They’ve exceeded population recovery goals and their populations are really thriving across the entirety of the range.”
According to a timeline produced by the International Wolf Center, roughly 200 wolves were harvested annually in Minnesota between 1966 and 1973. In 1970, a reported 750 wolves existed in Minnesota with no wolves in Wisconsin or Michigan.
In 1974, the gray wolf became legally protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, making it illegal to harvest gray wolves in the United States. Forty-one years later, The House of Representatives introduced legislation in hopes of delisting gray wolves from the endangered species list in Wyoming and the western states surrounding the Great Lakes. Today, this issue is a highly-debated topic among government officials and concerned U.S. citizens.
“The wolf range in Minnesota is vast and it’s growing rapidly,” Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association executive director Ashely Kohls said.
Kohls discussed the areas in the state that are considered wolf territory and said she frequently hears reports of the terror wolves are causing in cow herds throughout the territory. Kohls mentioned testimony from the hearing of a feeder whom explained how wolves also have an impact on livestock in the feedlot.
Agriculturists have been fed up with the wolf issue for a while now, however, the problem has expanded to other demographics. With active wolf packs existing within an hour of bigger cities, Kohls said wolves are moving closer to urban areas.
“We’re also hearing from more and more folks about pets,” Kohls said. “As these wolves move closer to major metro areas, we’re going to hear more and more about ‘Fluffy’ being lost to a wolf.”
Among concerned agriculturists attending the hearing was Joe Wilebski, a producer from Kittson County, Minnesota. Wilebski drove five hours to the hearing in Brainerd to give an honest, humanized testimony of his experiences with wolves and the impact they have had on his herd.
“I had trouble for many years, but the worst year I had they took a quarter of my calf crop. It was 26 calves I came up short that year,” Wilebski said.
Wilebski said he called upon the help of three federal trappers. At first, the trappers caught an 84-pound wolf – but wolves travel in packs, and this particular pack was suspected to contain 12-15 wolves. Eventually, the trappers caught a 103-pound male, presumably the alpha. Wilebski said his wolf problem settled down after they took the alpha out of the equation.
“I bought donkeys – they’re supposed to be good for predator control. We’ve had radios out there, we had flashing lights, we moved the cattle right up by the yard. Nothing seemed to work until they finally got what they thought was the alpha,” Wilebski said.
Wilebski lives a mile from the Canada border. Canadian law allows citizens to legally kill wolves with a valid license, some of these citizens are relatives of Wilebski.
“I can’t understand how on that side of the border you can hunt them legally. But on this side, I’d get less if I shot the warden” Wilebski chuckled. “It’s really pitiful that they [delisting non-supporters] don’t understand the problem, and just address controlling them. I’m not in favor of getting rid of all of them, I grew up with wildlife my whole life… but control. That’s all I’m asking for – control.”
Wilebski, along with numerous other American agriculturists, are in support of the delisting proposal. But with support comes opposition, and this matter has its fair share of naysayers.
All opposed say “no.”
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) published a press release titled, “Dozens Rally in Minnesota Against Trump’s Plan to Strip Protection From Wolves as Scores Expected to Testify at Hearing.” This article contains quotes from many wolf advocates, none of which identify themselves as agriculturists.
According to the CBD, “if finalized, the plan would allow trophy hunting and trapping of wolves in some areas, including Minnesota. This would hamper wolf recovery across the lower 48 states. The plan would likely prevent wolf recovery in the Adirondacks, southern Rockies and elsewhere that scientists have identified as suitable wolf habitat.”
Data collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported Minnesota is home to 2,655 wolves, Wisconsin is home to 905 wolves and Michigan is home to 662 wolves. These numbers are far greater than the numbers recorded in 1975 (one year after gray wolves were officially added to the endangered species list) when Minnesota harbored 1,000 – 1,200 gray wolves and Wisconsin and Michigan had zero.
In a report published by the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) titled “Government data confirm that wolves have negligible effect on U.S. cattle & sheep industries,” readers are persuaded to support wolves remaining on the endangered species list. This report discredits the USDA’s report, “Death Loss in U.S. Cattle and Calves Due to Predator and Nonpredator Causes, 2015,” which claims the dollar value of U.S. cattle lost by predators is $66,393,000 (this number does not include money spent on injured cattle, only death loss).
Whether predators contribute to 41,680 cattle death losses per year like the USDA reports, or the 26 cattle death losses of Joe Wilebski’s herd, every number counts – and so does every voice.
“Last month a coalition of organizations submitted nearly one million comments opposing the proposal to remove wolf protections,” the CBD reported. “This is the largest number of comments ever received by the federal government on an Endangered Species Act issue in the law’s 45-year history.”
Advocates of agriculture are encouraged to voice their concerns. Support for delisting can easily be offered by texting “DELIST” to 52886 or visiting policy.ncba.org to submit personal testimony and comments by July 15.BACK