I could tell you that with Act 169 in Wisconsin, many stakeholders, including the tribes and environmental advocacy voices were removed from any sort of decision-making process. The science committee was disbanded and tribal and university biologists were replaced with hunting lobby groups. The law makes any sort of compromise impossible because it restricts discussion of protection of the wolf. A few key tenets are missing such as core habitat protection areas, refuges and buffer zones, which are critical for long term sustainability of wolves in the Great Lakes.
I could tell you we may agree that the population trajectory of wolves in the Great Lakes has been going in a positive direction over the last few decades under ESA protection but, it may be premature to delist the wolf from the ESA at this time, where meaningful discussion between stakeholders has been disallowed and scientific discussion has been replaced by anti-wolf agendas. It is irresponsible not to consider the social issues that drove wolves to the brink of extinction in the past.
I could also tell you human intolerance has been the greatest threat to wolves and continues to express itself through politics and the extremely aggressive wolf killing management plans that seem to presumptively be part of delisting. Basing wolf recovery on plans that set benchmarks for the lowest viable numbers is dated and irresponsible.
I could tell you that more than 70 scientists signed a letter explaining that the current “experts” on wolves in the Western Great Lakes does not represent the best available science. Johnson and Ribble neglect to tell you that these scientists have no financial interest in the outcomes of their research, instead of agency science which is a top down political process. They neglect to tell you that public attitudes about wolves and the Endangered Species Act are better than ever before. They neglect to tell you about the legal requirements of the ESA and the inadequacies within Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan that lead to a Michigan federal judge ordering protection returned to the ESA.
I could tell you that Mark Liebaert, the cattle farmer that the Ron Johnson/ Reid Ribble letter refers to has never had a depredation on his cattle farm in the past 10 years but in order to essentially pacify him, he was issued shooting permits for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, in which, of course, he didn’t shoot any wolves “hunting his cattle.” He also put forth no attempt at non-lethal deterrents on his farm with abatement help from the DNR. “Crying wolf” is not only dishonest but makes farmers, like me, who are working WITH predators enraged. There are ways to coexist and actually they work better than pacification techniques like shooting permits. Many programs that help farmers coexist with wolves will lose funding and depredation payments could lose substantial funding as well with delisting.
I could tell you how ridiculous it is that Mr. Liebaert states that “people can’t walk their dogs” in Northern Wisconsin because we know that the dogs being killed by wolves are bear hunting hounds put into harm’s way by their owners, miles away, off leash, trespassing and animal fighting with little to no regulation. Especially in Douglas County. Companion animals and livestock guardian dogs are rarely killed by wolves.
Instead I’ll tell you this. Senator Johnson and Representative Ribble are using wolves to further their own political agendas because if they were working for the sustainable use of our land for farming or resources you’d hear about their great successes instead. Why aren’t we hearing about that and hearing about wolves instead? Well because, frankly, they don’t care about farmers, or mainstream hunters, fisherman or the environment. What they like to do is drive home fear in order to get votes, which sadly, demonstrates the desperate need for environmental education. Senator Johnson has a 7 percent rating from The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Ribble 6 percent. They voted consistently to repeal EPA oversight of mining, regulated waters, legal pesticide runoff and clean air. They are part of Washington’s “dirty dozen” for their lack of protection of the Great Lakes ecosystems. They do not believe you have a right to drink clean water and breathe clean air. Flint, Michigan should demonstrate, Under Senator Johnson and Representative Ribble’s management, that Wisconsin could soon face a similar crisis.
Johnson penalized farmers by voting against a bill that would ensure all farmers have a level playing field with regard to eligibility requirements for subsidies, and help ensure long-term farm productivity by protecting vital natural resources. He voted to repeal Conservation Stewardship funds that reward farmers to help conserve critical natural resources. These programs not only are very popular with farmers, but also have a proven track record of providing valuable taxpayer benefits by improving soil, water, and wildlife habitat.
Ribble, well, he’s a friend to the fossil fuel industry and also to the large corporate factory farms that the Farm Bureau loves to protect. Have you taken a look at Green Bay lately? The algae bloom runoff from large corporate farms is destroying the economy there. He voted to remove country of origin labeling requirements on meats and animal products so that overseas products which aren't regulated can be sold and competing with our Wisconsin Family Farms. He voted against holding coal and other mining companies responsible and against forcing them to take action to protect human health and prevent pollution of the natural environment.
It's important that we look at the real push behind this steady stream of anti-wolf legislation. Does anyone really think Republicans care about the outdoors or keeping our environment safe or anything scientific? Does Reid Ribble really care about not undermining the Endangered Species Act? Hell no. So who stands to benefit most of these bills? It's the hunting lobbies like Safari Club International, US Sportsmen’s Alliance and of course, the NRA, it’s easy to see their hands on Johnson and Ribble’s strings if you know where to look. The majority of the people of Wisconsin, in wolf range, favor grey wolves at the population they are at or higher. Both Johnson and Ribble are no friends of the grey wolf, the family farm, the tribes, the middle class or the future of Wisconsin.
Melissa Smith is a field representative for the Endangered Species Coalition of the Great Lakes and president and executive director of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf. She holds a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and New Mexico State University. She is a delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.