State officials are scrambling to respond to news that Congress has eliminated funding for wolf control in Minnesota.
"That came completely out of the blue," Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Tuesday. "We were totally surprised."
Landwehr said he learned of the funding loss on Monday. Congress removed all funding for the Wolf Predation Management program in a temporary appropriations bill signed by President Obama on March 18, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson confirmed via email Tuesday. The program had a $727,000 budget to fund efforts in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.
USDA officials did not reply to emails seeking additional information about when the agency became aware of the funding cuts or when it notified other agencies.
Wolves are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act or ESA. That makes it illegal for private citizens or state DNR officials to trap or shoot them. Instead, federal trappers with the USDA's Wildlife Services program respond to complaints about wolves causing problems with livestock or pets.
Landwehr said the defunding couldn't come at a worse time. May is the peak month for wolf complaints, he said.
"Cattle are calving right now," he said. "We've got very vulnerable animals out there, so we really do need to jump on top of this."
The state provides reimbursement for animals killed by wolves, but Landwehr said the program only receives about $100,000 in annual funding. If there's a sharp increase in reimbursement claims, the program won't be able to pay for them.
Landwehr said he's been talking with USDA officials to determine whether the USDA has to immediately end the program.
"They're scrambling, too," he said. "They don't think that even right now they have any money, but they're looking to see what the bill actually says and does. From all appearances, it terminated their money immediately, but they're continuing to go day-to-day until they get more information."
A spokesperson for the USDA declined to comment on how the agency is handling the funding cut.
Landwehr sent a letter to members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation on Tuesday asking for lawmakers to either fund wolf control programs or "provide a congressional finding that wolves have recovered in Minnesota and are no longer protected under the ESA."
The DNR has pushed for the delisting of the wolf, but the effort has faced opposition from environmental and animal protection groups. Landwehr said he expects the federal government will decide to delist the wolf in December or January, but he said that won't be soon enough if there's no federal wolf control program.
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