By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Up to 6,000 Minnesotans may get the chance to hunt and trap wolves later this year under a plan unveiled Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR released its proposal for the first wolf hunt in more than 40 years and will set a maximum number of wolves killed at 400. If that quota is reached, the DNR would immediately end the season.
The announcement comes just as wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are officially removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections.
The federal government moved last month to hand wolf management in the Great Lakes region back to state and tribal wildlife agencies.
That move takes effect Friday.
Hunters and trappers would have to apply for the license and the season will be held in late November, after the regular firearms deer season is over and when wolf pelts are prime. Hunting would be allowed with firearms, archery equipment and muzzleloaders. Calls and bait would be allowed, with restrictions. Dogs would not be allowed.
Trappers would have to apply for a permit, and trapped wolves would be part of the quota of 400.
Wolves are notoriously difficult to hunt because they are wary and move quickly, especially in Minnesota’s north woods where visibility is often limited. Montana held a wolf season in 2009 in which some 15,600 hunters shot only 72 wolves.
The DNR will submit its plan Thursday to state lawmakers in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.
The DNR already has authority to hold a wolf season but is seeking authority from lawmakers to offer the new wolf license and for other wolf management efforts. Lawmakers would have to pass a bill that’s signed by Gov. Mark Dayton for the season to occur.
Some farming and hunting groups have asked that more wolves be killed and that more licenses be available than the DNR is proposing. And the issue is sure to attract heated debates at the Legislature, where wolf supporters have said it’s too soon to start large-scale killing of an animal that has just recovered from the brink of extinction.
Lawmakers may decide the issue in coming weeks. State Rep. Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, has already introduced legislation that calls for the wolf season to be open during the deer season, a move that probably would allow many more hunters to shoot more wolves.
“Some legislators have already said they’d like to see those numbers higher,” said Chris Niskanen, DNR spokesman. “But we think this is a good place to start, to be conservative as we start down this road.’’
Niskanen noted that federal trappers have been killing about 200 wolves a year near where livestock have been killed.
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said the DNR is headed in the right direction.
“I feel much better about where they (DNR officials) are going with it,” Johnson said. “They’re taking a cautious but realistic approach. As long as things work right in the front end, with the first season and the second seasons, there will be more options from a hunting and trapping standpoint in the future.”
Howard Goldman, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which has opposed hunting and trapping of wolves, said he hadn’t seen the DNR plan and couldn’t comment.
DNR officials said they will take public comments on the plan. They said the initial season will allow wolf biologists to collect data both on hunters and trappers and on wolves killed to help set future seasons.
Researchers say wolves are very prolific; that survival of young is generally high and populations can offset effects of mortality caused by hunting and trapping season.
Minnesota has about 3,000 wolves roaming the northern one-third of the state, while Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula each have about 800.
Wolves will continue to be protected in most cases in Minnesota even after Friday. In Northeastern areas, wolves can be shot starting Friday if they are about to harm livestock and pets. In the southern two-thirds of the state, wolves can essentially be shot by property owners at any time on their own land.
State-certified trappers also can begin to trap wolves near where livestock and pets have been killed.