The Economic Cost of a Great Lakes Wolves Delisting Rider

Melissa Smith

Imagine Wisconsin losing a potential 168,000 jobs and $17.9 billion in consumer spending. If the policy “rider” that aims to de-list Great Lakes wolves is included in Congress’s budget bill, Wisconsin could see a severe drop in these numbers. Wolves are vital to our economy in both direct and indirect ways.

If wolves are delisted by this rider, there is nothing to stop the Great Lakes from returning to the aggressive state management plans and broad wolf hunting seasons that took effect in 2012-2014, resulting in the death of 1,521 wolves in two years – nearly half of the population. Losing wolves at this dangerous rate would diminish the economic profits from outdoor recreationists in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, weaken already fragile wolf populations, and destabilize the ecosystem as a whole. The passing of two state referendums in Michigan, and a 2014 survey by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows that the public does not support the hunting of wolves, and value the important ecological and economic role that wolves play.

Having enough wolves on the landscape to fulfill their biological role in the Western Great Lakes makes good financial sense. Wolves provide crucial economic and tourism dollars, especially as the revenue generated by hunting continues to decline due to lack of public interest in the pastime.

Wolves also provide important ecological benefits which cost millions when governments attempt to take them on, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) as an example. Studies show that wolves act as a firewall against the spread of chronic wasting disease, which has had a devastating economic impact in nearly all counties of Wisconsin.

In 2001 – 2006, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources spent $26.8 million in attempts to manage CWD outbreaks, efforts which the Wisconsin government admits have not been effective. Wolves effectively reduce densities of wild white-tailed deer, which in turn protects commercial forestry operations and agricultural crops by reducing overbrowsing. In 2015, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource spent $754,592 on their damage abatement program for white-tailed deer, a job which wolves do for free.

By reducing deer densities, wolves also help to mitigate the risk of vehicle-deer collisions In 2015, Minnesota experienced 2,141 deer related collisions, at a national average of $3,995 in claims per collision, not to mention lives lost, Minnesota has much to gain by protecting their wolf population. In short, wolves can benefit agriculture, tourism, public safety, forest/water quality, and ecosystem health.

They are also a lure for tourists at Isle Royale National Park, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the northern forest of Wisconsin. There are thousands of tourists who relish the idea of spotting a wild wolf or just want to experience an intact, wild ecosystem by walking in habitats that wolves also tread.

A true symbol of wilderness, wolves bring tourists who in turn bring economic activity to rural regions, which are often devastated by loss of jobs.

Non-lethal methods of management such as livestock guardian dogs and fences are more than 99% effective and also add to reducing livestock losses costing 102 million dollars per year, mostly by coyote and bear. By allowing for a near repeated historical extinction of wolves in Wisconsin, which will only increase livestock losses, these breeders and ethical producers stand to lose a lot financially too. And if producers aren’t using non-lethal abatement for wolves, we will lose grants for farmers. You can expect that these farmers, willing to work with nature, will have more losses. And not just by wolves.

The science, the public and the money all point to the fact that wolves are a valuable resource for our ecosystems and our economies. The total value of wolves is incalculable, but their presence saves local governments millions by managing overabundant deer and their negative economic impacts, and at the same time, drives significant income and jobs in tourism, particularly in rural areas where they are sorely needed. Lawmakers should not cripple The Great Lakes and their potential for real economic prosperity by legislatively delisting wolves.

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