I have heard the voices of Wisconsinites who have real concerns about the increasing threat of our state’s growing wolf population. Farmers have found livestock injured and killed by wolves that are straying closer to their herds than in previous years. Families have lost pets. Parents have decided it’s no longer safe to let their kids play where they normally do.
These concerns, and the expertise of wildlife science, tell us we should take on the gray wolf problem in our state by acting again to delist the wolf from the Endangered Species List and pass management of the wolf back to the State of Wisconsin.
This issue is not new to me and I have been working across party lines on it for many years. In 2011, prior to being elected to the Senate, when I represented South Central Wisconsin in the House of Representatives, biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the gray wolf population in the Great Lakes states had successfully recovered in Wisconsin. I applauded this decision and urged prompt delisting from the Endangered Species List and a return to state management, which was finalized with the full delisting of the wolf in December 2011. This was the right call then, just as it is today.
The Endangered Species Act plays a critical role in saving species from the brink of extinction, and when it does, we must acknowledge we have succeeded in restoring wildlife populations by delisting them. According to both federal and state wildlife biologists, this goal has been achieved. Wisconsin wolf populations were estimated at 815-880 animals in 2012, the year following delisting. This is far above the population of 100 that the 1992 Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf set as a minimum number of animals necessary to sustain a recovered population.
Since the wolf was relisted as endangered following a court decision in late 2015, the wolf population has grown substantially in Wisconsin, and the most recent counts estimate a population of more than 900 animals. This large population is leading to increased conflicts between humans and wolves. Families are worried about their ability to stay safe, farmers report livestock losses and declines in dairy productivity from stressed cows, and pets have been killed by wolves that are straying closer to yards, farms, and towns. In addition, sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts report declines in the population of deer, elk, and other wildlife. The wolf has recovered, and we must manage it as such, both for the safety and economic well-being of Wisconsinites and the balance of our environment.
Delisting the wolf should not mean removing it from the landscape, but restoring a greater balance in rural communities. Many Wisconsinites have deeply felt beliefs about how the wolf population should be managed, and the health of the wolf population is of unique significance to Native American Tribes. I believe those debates deserve thoughtful and careful consideration by state and tribal wildlife experts, following a federal delisting.
I was elected to represent the entire state of Wisconsin and I know full well that means hearing the voices of all and balancing the divisions that often exist on issues.
I am proud to support the Endangered Species Act, which has protected iconic species and wildlife for the benefit of future generations. Because of the good work done by so many in bringing back the wolf population, I am also proud to support its delisting.
That is why I have called on Congressional leadership and my colleagues in the United States Senate to pass legislation to delist the wolf and return management to the state by the end of this year.