IT APPEARS that the U.S. Congress has one shot in the next month at passing legislation that would give states management authority over gray wolves.

Still controlled by Republicans until the first of the year, the House of Representatives passed the Manage Our Wolves Act on a bipartisan vote last week, 196 to 180.

The vote came less than a month after the midterm elections swung eventual control of the House to Democrats, though a Republican majority still exits in the Senate.

Now it’s up to senators to act on a bill that would remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states, shifting management authority to state wildlife biologists and other natural resources experts in each state.

By all reasonable measurements, the gray wolf has successfully recovered in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.

More than 4,000 wolves populate the three states in contrast to federal regulations that state a wolf population is considered recovered when a state’s population reaches 100 wolves outside of Indian reservations.

Don’t let anyone convince you that wolves are threatened with extinction just because individual states want the right to manage their own wolf populations without federal intervention.

Like its counterparts in Michigan and Minnesota, Wisconsin has in place a Wolf Management Plan. Ours would prevent wolf numbers from dropping below 350 animals.

But right now we have at least 905 wolves in Wisconsin, by conservative estimates, and the high numbers are impacting ranchers, property owners, hunters, dog owners and deer distribution.

Trouble is every time the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does the right thing, to delist wolves from strict protection under the Endangered Species Act, some liberal federal judge decides they know better.

At the heart of the issue is a philosophical and political battle over how far federal authority should extend in forcing states to recover and manage a wolf population.

Supporters of the current federal protection of wolves suggest that wolves in the Great Lakes states shouldn’t be delisted until wolf populations are established in Illinois, Iowa, the Dakotas and other parts of their historic range.

That heavy-handed federal authority has resulted in four failed delisting efforts in the Great Lakes, stripping Wisconsin and its neighbors of the authority to manage wolf numbers — including lethal controls.

The fight for state management control, including public harvest seasons to control wolf numbers, was the catalyst for the proposed Manage Our Wolves Act that is now before Congress.

“The science is clear-cut on the issue of delisting,” said State Sens. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Tom Casperson of Michigan in a joint statement. “Twenty-six scientists with expertise in the field of wildlife biology signed a letter a few years ago urging the wolf be delisted.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was doing a great job of managing wolves until the fourth time a judge overturned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife delisting.

To slowly reduce the population, the state sanctioned three wolf seasons. The first was in 2012-’13 with a harvest of 117 wolves, followed by a harvest of 257 wolves in the 2013-’14 season and 154 wolves in the 2014-’15 season.

Those hunting and trapping seasons got us back to a conservative estimate of 650 wolves before a federal judge ruled against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service delisting, ruling that the recovery of “Distinct Population Segments” wasn’t enough to support delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has said, “Wisconsin should be permitted to manage the wolf population according to science rather than judicial whim.”

For the record, I don’t agree with letting any other state off the hook if they have refused to protect wolves or to consider reintroducing them. This delisting effort, and the proposed congressional action, should focus on relief for Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

Likewise, it makes no sense to punish the states that have worked with both governments and wolf advocates to make this very successful reintroduction effort a reality. 

But right now, that’s exactly the sort of punishment that federal courts are handing out. Wisconsin is being penalized for doing the right thing, and that’s why we need congressional action to strip the courts of jurisdiction in this matter.

It’s ridiculous to have to explain the obvious, but the wolf was removed from the landscape at a time when farmers and hunters weren’t keen on losing livestock and wildlife to the big predators.

We overstepped our bounds by hunting down and shooting every last one of them in Wisconsin, but it was accomplished with reasoning that made sense at the time.

But just because we’ve seen the light and decided to recover a wolf population here doesn’t mean we want to return to the days when thousands of wolves roamed the landscape. We are accommodating them, not giving them the unlimited reign of self-regulation.

I’m not a wolf lover by any stretch of the imagination, but I still believe they have a place in the wilds of Wisconsin with some reasonable limitations.

I can still remember the exact place and time when a lone wolf sent out a hair-raising howl from a black spruce swamp south of Three Lakes. Katie, my black Lab at the time, almost knocked me over on a dead run for the truck.

Howls and barks filled the airwaves for at least 30 seconds after that howl, as every wolf pup and coyote in the area sounded off. It was a wild experience.

This bill should pass. Wisconsin has done its job of recovering a very sustainable wolf population.