While federal lawmakers take another shot at opening hunting season on wolves, activists have launched a campaign to celebrate an animal once driven to near extinction.
The yearlong “Big, Not Bad” campaign launched on Valentine’s Day, with an emotional video about wolves by Mindfruit Studios and photographer Jim Brandenburg.
The goal is to teach people in the Great Lakes region about wolves and the role the animals play in the ecosystem.
“As individuals learn more about wolves, we hope they will turn their knowledge into action by sharing their new information,” said Nancy Warren, director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition and a resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Each month of the campaign will bring a new presentation about wolves — art, photographs, stories and science about wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
“We hope to give the public an opportunity to participate and express their love and support for wolves,” said Melissa Smith, Great Lakes representative for the Endangered Species Coalition. “We want to support the cultural views of indigenous people, the best available science and the values of all our citizens.”
The coalition — which also includes Brandenburg’s Nature 365 and the Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife — will drive the campaign as Congress again considers legislation to remove endangered species protections for the Great Lakes and Wyoming populations of the gray wolf.
Representatives of environmental organizations and animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States call the proposed legislation the “War on Wolves Act.”
The legislation pending in the Senate, S. 164, is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
The bill in the House, H.R. 424 or “Gray Wolf State Management Act,” is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Republicans Sean Duffy, F. James Sensenbrenner, Mike Gallagher and Glenn Grothman and by Democrat Ron Kind.
Early in February, a group of more than 80 scientists and scholars, including Dr. Jane Goodall, wrote to Congress to urge lawmakers to oppose efforts to strip federal protections for wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes.
“The letter, released by the Humane Society, emphasizes that listings and delistings should be determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and consistent with the best available scientific data — following a robust review that considers input from all stakeholders and experts.
The scientists said data show progress toward a species recovery — about 5,500 wolves inhabit 15 percent of their historic range in the contiguous United States — but “the job is not done. …The ESA requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range than has currently been achieved.”
Sponsors of the House and Senate bills say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supports delisting and that management of gray wolves now should be handled by the states.
Opponents of the measures say science doesn’t support delisting and that if the states manage wolves, the slaughter of the species will resume with a rush to hunt.
Delisting has been blocked by federal courts at least three times since 2007. When the FWS delisted wolves in 2011, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Wyoming moved to allow the trophy hunting of wolves, resulting in the killing of at least 1,700 gray wolves in the Great Lakes region.
“We must get wolf recovery right by developing a healthy relationship with wolves, recognizing the important role they play in our ecosystem and refraining from unjustified persecution,” reads the letter to Congress coordinated by professors at Michigan Technological University, Ohio State, Oregon State and University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Their advice was for the FWS to develop a “robust national plan for wolf conservation and recovery.”
As of WiG press time, H.R. 424 was before the House Committee on Natural Resources.
However, the day after the “Big, Not Bad” campaign launched, a hearing on the Oversight: Modernization of the Endangered Species Act took place before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a sponsor of the bill to delist gray wolves, chairs the committee.
Barrasso’s hearing prompted environmental groups and animal welfare advocates to urge supporters to write their senators and representatives.
“If you’ve ever seen a bald eagle or a brown pelican, you can thank the Endangered Species Act,” said Sarah Greenberger, vice president of conservation for the National Audubon Society. “The Endangered Species Act not only protects iconic American wildlife from extinction but it does so at a 99 percent success rate. The act works so well because it encourages people to keep a species safe before a listing is necessary and it is effective enough to bring a species back from the brink when listed. Congressional efforts to weaken this important law increase the chances that birds and other wildlife could disappear forever.”