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Wolf debate howls in Hudson

Opponents and supporters of an effort to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list attended a May 3 meeting in Hudson. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., spoke to a crowd May 3 at the Hudson House, where attendees gave comments about a proposal to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

The tug-of-war over the gray wolf's place on the endangered species list last week came to Hudson, where advocates on both sides of the debate appealed to lawmakers.

Supporters and opponents of the latest effort to remove wolves from the list spoke to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, who was joined by a panel of state lawmakers and officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Johnson spoke in support of a USFWS rule-change proposal to delist gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Wyoming. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, backs the effort, her spokeswoman said at the meeting, held at the Hudson House.

Wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan were delisted in 2011 but placed back under the Endangered Species Act protection in 2014.

Fish and wildlife officials on the panel said the gray wolf's numbers have rebounded strongly since the species dwindled to as few as 14 in all of Wisconsin in the 1980s. Panelists said there are now an estimated 925 gray wolves in Wisconsin and more than 4,000 in Minnesota.

"This is a heck of a conservation success story," said Charles Wooley, acting USFWS regional director for the Midwest.

Panelist Rob Stafsholt, a New Richmond Republican Assembly member, said he's been close to the issue of wolf management for about 20 years. He said it's time for delisting.

"It's only being held up by federal politics," he said.

Others at the meeting said there are reasons for continuing to protect the animals.

Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf advocate Britt Ricci said delisting will make wolves targets of trophy hunters who will greatly reduce the population. She asked panelists why wolves would be put on the endangered species list "only to take them back to the brink of extinction."

Wooley told her hunting wouldn't go unabated — there would be a monitoring program in place, he said.

"We have full faith and trust" in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to manage the program, Wooley said.

Hudson resident Sara Dobyns disagreed. She warned panelists about the gruesome deaths suffered by dogs used in wolf hunting.

"I have no confidence in the state of Wisconsin ... to manage wolf hunting," Dobyns said.

Deer Park resident Leslie Svacina, owner of Cylon Rolling Acres, said her farm has already shown signs of large predators. She found a suspiciously large paw print on her property after a family cat was found dead.

Svacina raises goats on her 20-acre St. Croix County pasture. She has working dogs on the property as a deterrence for predators, along with $15,000 worth of fencing she's installed to keep predators out and goats in.

But, she told RiverTown Multimedia, "It might not be enough for the wolves."

Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert, a Wisconsin Farmers Union board member, told the panel "I literally beg you" to delist the gray wolf. He took umbrage with a Sierra Club advocate's comment that only a fraction of a percent of livestock deaths are attributable to wolf attacks.

"Great, if they're not yours," Liebaert said, adding how his farm has been stalked by wolf packs. "If they're yours, it's a lot more of a problem."

The gray wolf was added to the endangered species list in 1974, where it remained until 2007 when it was delisted. That stood until 2009 when a federal judge ruled the gray wolf should be returned to the list.

Delisting in 2011 lasted until 2014 when another federal court ruling forced the gray wolf back onto the endangered species list.

The fish and wildlife service will continue accepting written comments until May 14. Federal officials will review input until March 15, 2020, after which it will make a final recommendation on the gray wolf's endangered status.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is a regional/enterprise reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage includes St. Croix County government, higher education and state politics in Wisconsin. 

(651) 301-7867