By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune

The federally funded wolf-trapping effort in Minnesota that ran out of money and shut down Friday could be running again within days after the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture pledged new money for the program.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told the News Tribune on Tuesday that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged to use money from the agency’s operating budget to restart the wolf trapping and killing program.

“Secretary Vilsack has assured me that he has found the money to extend the program out to the end of the year,” said Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We need this program to keep Minnesota livestock and residents safe. … The gap in that coverage was unacceptable.”

Klobuchar said her focus now is to push forward an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “delist” wolves as an endangered species by the end of 2011 and give management back to state and tribal natural resource agencies. The state then could begin more-aggressive wolf management efforts, including allowing the public to shoot wolves causing trouble.

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., agreed.

“I commend the USDA for temporarily continuing essential resources for operations to protect private property and ensure public safety from problem wolves while we work to delist the wolf from protected status in Minnesota,” Cravaack said in a statement, also urging Congress to legislate Minnesota wolf delisting rather than wait for the Endangered Species Act protocol to unfold in coming months.

Because expert federal trappers are able to pinpoint their efforts near where farmers and pet owners are having problems, Klobuchar said she also hopes to keep federal money available for the trapping program even after the state assumes management of wolves. State officials and some farmers have asked for the federal government to split the cost of focused trapping.

Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman, confirmed the program extension, but only for Minnesota. USDA trapping efforts in 16 other states that are normally funded through earmarks, including Wisconsin, have not been restored.

The USDA trapping program has been killing wolves in Minnesota since 1978. Last year alone, the program investigated 272 complaints and killed 192 wolves. In 2009, it killed 199 wolves. This year it was up to 189 until the federal budget year ended Friday and the current congressional earmark for the program ran out of money.

Supporters say the wolf-trapping program acted as not only pinpoint response but also as a safety valve to relieve social and political pressure among people who don’t like wolves and might otherwise take matters into their own hands, killing wolves indiscriminately with poison or guns.

Killing wolves is allowed, even though wolves are a federally protected species, because Minnesota wolves are classified as threatened, a step removed from endangered. In Wisconsin and Michigan, trapped wolves are relocated away from farms.

Peak demand typically occurs starting in April when calves and lambs are born and continues through summer. But trappers get calls every month.

There are an estimated 3,200 wolves in Minnesota, about 800 in Wisconsin and 700 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, many more than federal officials expected when the animal first received federal protection in 1974.