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Minnesota farmers: Wolf ruling threatens livestock

NIMROD, Minn. (AP)--On Chuck Becker's cattle farm in north-central Minnesota, wolves can cause his animals to run through fences and become crippled. Some are eaten alive.

Before, Becker could trap or shoot the wolves to protect his cattle. The state even reimbursed him for the animals killed by the wolves, provided that he had proof.

But earlier this fall, a federal court ruling put the wolf back on the endangered species list, and it's now illegal for Becker and other Minnesota farmers and ranchers to shoot the animals on their own.

"That law makes good honest hardworking individuals into criminals," Becker said. "If you don't take care of yourself, nobody is going to help you. That's the bottom line."

About 80 farmers had been paid each year for livestock killed by wolves under the Minnesota Wolf Management Plan, said Dan Stark, a wolf management specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The court ruling put the management plan on hold, and it isn't clear how many farmers have taken matters into their own hands despite the new endangered species listing, he said.

"We know that illegal shooting occurs," Stark said, "but there's no evidence it has any influence on the overall population. And it's one of those things where it's very hard to get at an overall number."

Eleven wolves were shot legally during the 18 months when the wolf was off the protected list in Minnesota, Stark said.

Farmers like Becker must now call in federal trappers to go after the wolves if cattle or other livestock are killed, but many farmers say the wolves often move on before the trappers arrive.

The DNR reports that Minnesota's wolf population is stable. Farmers noticing more wolves than usual are likely seeing single animals move through to look for new territory, officials said.

There are nearly 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, according to the most recent estimate.

In Sebeka, located south of Park Rapids, Tim Nolte said a wolf's recent visit to his farm led to three of his 270 calves disappearing. Nolte hasn't found a trace of them.

Nolte is frustrated and cynical about the future of wolf management, saying it's harder to get people's attention when the problem is isolated.

"As long as it's just a rancher or farmer problem it's going to be tough," Nolte said. "If the wolves moved into populated areas and started taking more pets that would get us more support. Lord knows little Fluffy has more rights than an $800 steer."


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Date: 12/19/08


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