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MN House Mining & Outdoor Rec. Committee confused over State vs. Federal wolf-control funding

posted Feb 15, 2015, 5:52 PM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Mar 20, 2015, 4:35 PM ]

This is an excerpt from the 1/20/2015 informational hearing on the current status of MN Wolf Management. It was intended to focus on the question of what was changed by the recent federal court decision to restore federal protections to the Gray Wolf in the Western Great Lakes DPS under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The hearing was held by the Minnesota House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee on 1/20/2015. The full-length video of that meeting is available at http://youtu.be/PiUKNo24OpY

The committee heard testimony and asked questions of staff from the MN DNR, MN Dept. of Agriculture, USGS, MN Farmers Union, and MN Farm Bureau. 

In this excerpt, the same question is asked twice, less than an hour apart, and it gets two very different answers. Apparently, the confusion is over the current arrangement (since 2012) in which the State of MN, through the MN DNR, contracts with a Federal agency, USDA Wildlife Services, to carry out part of the MN Predator Control Program. Apparently, Rep. Hackbarth and Dr. Mech forgot that the question had already been asked and answered. The question was "how is the program funded?" The answer from the MN DNR was that it's entirely funded by the State of MN. Yet, Rep. Hackbarth asked it again--without reference to the previous answer. Dr. Mech then answered it again--without reference to the previous answer. Neither the Committee Chairman nor the expert testifier made any effort to clarify the confusion; perhaps they weren't aware of it? Perhaps Dr. Mech's answer was, characteristically, directed to some small part of the question, and in the process ignored the main question? Perhaps Rep. Hackbarth didn't notice the difference?

The Committee Chairman and Members spent most of the hearing refreshing their memories of the history of wolf management in Minnesota. They asked the expert testifiers to recount their strangest stories of wolf depredation, and they shared their strangest stories. They heard in detail about the shortcomings of Dr. Mech's knowledge on the molecular genetics of "coy-wolves," on non-lethal depredation control, and on the state of research on the MN moose population decline. They pointed to their districts on the map of wolf territory and bragged about how "gray" their areas were. But they never resolved these two pieces of conflicting information. Furthermore, they never invited testimony from the wolf advocates who were present and ready to testify, nor from anyone else who could address the subject.

Very strange.

Update: 2/16/2015


An inquiry has been sent to USDA Wildlife Services, asking for clarification.

It would be unfortunate for Minnesota to end up in a position in which only federal agents were authorized to remove depredating wolves from livestock-production areas, but no federal agents were available.

There was some panic over that very situation in Spring 2011 when the U. S. Congress cut the Wildlife Services budget for wolf depredation control. That was apparently done in order to cause trouble that would hasten the wolf delisting. "If it worked in 2011, why not try it again in 2015?" those Congressmen must be asking themselves.

Of course, one difference now is that the State of Minnesota funds the federal trappers of USDA Wildlife Services. But maybe those Congressmen know a part of the Wildlife Services budget that they could cut, to make just as much trouble as before. We shouldn't put it past them.


Update 2/20/2015:


In a phone interview today, John Hart, USDA Wildlife Services, answered these and other related questions. Here's a quick summary.

USDA Wildlife Services operations in MN are currently funded by both the US Federal government and the MN State government. 

Since April 2012, MN wolf-depredation control operations have been and continue to be funded solely by MN State funds through the MN Predator Control Program.

However, USDA Wildlife Services provides other services in the State of MN, including the protection of endangered species and migratory birds. Its costs for programs other than wolf control--including supervision, administration, and technical assistance--are federally funded (with "federal base funding" at the level of about $285K in FY 2014).

So, getting back to the MN House wolf-information hearing on 1/20/2015: 
  • MN DNR: the State of MN is the sole source of funds for the MN Predator Control Program, (including the payment of its contract with USDA Wildlife Services).
  • Dr. Mech: warning! (false alarm) USDA Wildlife Services still does receive federal funding! (false alarm)
  • Fact-check of Dr. Mech's false alarm: contrary to Dr. Mech's warning, the "federal base funding" of USDA Wildlife Services in MN is stable. It is entirely separate from the "congressionally-directed funding" (i.e. "earmarks") for wolf-control operations that made the headlines in 2011 when its "earmark" was cut from the federal budget.
  • Fact-check of MN DNR's false alarm (revealed strategically in headlines the next day, not mentioned in this hearing): "State funding tied up by the federal court!" (false alarm). See the 3/18/2015 update.


Update 2/21/2015:


They're at it again! Trying to manufacture "the perfect storm" (using the MN DNR "storm machine") to alarm Minnesota farmers about the instability of funding for wolf-depredation control.

Smith, Doug. 2015. "Minnesota Farmers Face a ‘Perfect Storm' because of Wolf Ruling." Star Tribune, February 21. http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/293284661.html.

Here's the rest of the headline: 
  • Minnesota farmers face a "perfect storm" because of stubborn fish & game officials and politicians opposed to wolf rulings. 
  • Blaming it on the federal court, U.S. Congress, wolf advocates, and wolves. 
  • Ignoring continued State funding of compensation to farmers (HF 514 / SF 824). 
  • Rather than looking for solutions, pleading instead to the headlines. 
  • Joining forces with lobbyists to misinform the public.
Here's a proposal on how to avert the "storm" (which turned out to be unnecessary: just pulling the farmers' chain. See the 3/18/2015 update on the proposal on how to avert the "storm")




MN_House_RepTomHackbarth_2015-01-20_02
Committee Chairman, MN Rep. Tom Hackbarth.