Great Lakes wolves to remain under federal protection

Wolves across the Great Lakes region will remain under federal Endangered Species Act protections under the massive $1.1 trillion compromise budget legislation now moving in Congress.

A grey wolf howls on top of a snowy hill. (Wikimedia Commons)

Wolves across the Great Lakes region will remain under federal Endangered Species Act protections under the massive $1.1 trillion compromise budget legislation now moving in Congress.

The provision that would have removed federal coverage and handed wolf management back to state wildlife agencies was left out at the last moment as the 2,000-page bill was finalized early Wednesday. That means wolves in the region will remain off limits to hunting and trapping, as ordered by a federal judge exactly one year ago.

Critics of higher wolf populations want to hand management back to the states to reduce their numbers, saying the animal has fully recovered under goals set in the 1970s.

But wolf supporters say wolves should be allowed to expand in number and range, into other states, before being declared recovered.

"Wolf delisting had no basis in science and couldn't hold water in court," said Collette Adkins, a Minnesota attorney and biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "That rider was an ugly political ploy that would have ended with thousands more dead wolves at the hands of state wildlife managers. We're overjoyed that the rider was defeated."


Wolves in Wyoming also will remain federally protected.

Wolf supporters say it's still possible a change in wolf management could pass on its own in Congress, but that it's unlikely, especially with 2016 an election year.

The budget agreement also includes a host of other environmental and natural resources provisions that reflect tradeoffs between Republicans and Democrats, including:

  • Another $300 million for Great Lakes restoration projects, part of the ongoing effort to clean up polluted hotspots across the Great Lakes, restore habitat and bring back fish and wildlife populations. Over the past five years several of those projects have been in the Duluth-Superior harbor along the St. Louis River estuary.
  • Help for local communities to prevent sewage contamination by funding the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at $1.39 billion nationally, approximately $510 million of which will be invested in the eight-state Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
  • Reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which devotes fees from offshore oil and gas production to create national parks, purchase buffer zones around rivers and lakes, and provide matching grants for state and local projects.

"This budget sends a strong message that Great Lakes restoration remains a top priority for the nation. It keeps federal Great Lakes restoration efforts on track, and it benefits millions of people. We're glad to see that programs that are producing results around the region will continue," said Todd Ambs, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition.
The bill is surprisingly void of dozens of riders proposed by lawmakers to weaken environmental regulations, environmental groups said Wednesday.

"The final omnibus bill rejects more than 80 riders introduced to undermine the Endangered Species Act and our nation's commitment to wildlife and wildlands. These riders were part of one of the worst congressional attacks we've ever seen on endangered wildlife and the Endangered Species Act. Keeping these out of the omnibus bill is a major victory for wildlife," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

The bill could pass the House and Senate yet this week and, if enough votes are secured as expected, avoids any government shutdown for the next 10 months.

Oil export ban lifted, renewable credits extended

Republicans were successful to include a provision to lift the longstanding federal ban on oil exports, a nod to the fossil fuel industry that wants to export surplus from the nation's growing supply of oil. The move is expected to boost the economies of oil producing states such as North Dakota. But critics said it will encourage the production and use of more fossil fuels even as the nation moves to curb climate-changing greenhouse gasses.


Democrats won five-year extensions of credits for wind and solar energy producers. They also blocked GOP proposals to thwart Obama administration clean air and water regulations.

"It's encouraging that Congress is moving forward on five-year extensions of tax credits for wind and solar that will bring certainty to clean energy investors and spur additional construction. The most effective way to deal with the consequences of climate change is to reduce carbon emissions by transitioning to a clean-energy economy," said Todd Wolf of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Planned Parenthood funded, cyber security included

The bill does not contain measures restricting Syrian refugees, ending funding for Obama's executive actions on immigration or defunding Planned Parenthood as some conservatives had hoped.

The budget agreement also includes another bill that will extend $650 billion in tax breaks over the next decade by renewing nearly 50 business and individual tax breaks that have expired or are about to lapse.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill, which will fund government to Oct. 1 2016, also will postpone new taxes that were supposed to help pay for Obamacare, including the so-called "Cadillac tax" on expensive health insurance plans provided by some employers. That tax was supposed to take effect in 2018 now won't take effect until 2020. A tax on medical-device manufacturers also would be eliminated for two years.

Democrats were successful in extending the child-care tax credit as well.

The bill also includes a controversial cybersecurity program that would require private companies to share personal customer data with the federal government if a national security issue was involved.


Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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