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Minnesota wolf hunt goes for balance

(Minneapolis) Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota wildlife officials are planning a wolf hunting season that puts the long-term survival of the wolf above the of zeal of hunters, an indication of the careful line they must walk between the competing passions that the animal has generated for decades.

Yet the rules will be up to the state Legislature – meaning that the wolf will remain as politicized as ever.

“There are people who think we should wipe it off the face of the earth, and people who say put it on an altar,” said Tom Landwehr, state Natural Resources Commissioner. “And at the end of the day we are not going to bring the two ends together.”

Still, Minnesota’s first wolf hunting season will be a key test of the state’s ability to manage the Great Lakes wolf after it officially comes off the federal endangered species list on Jan. 27. After more than 30 years of federal protection, there are now an estimated 3,000 of the gray wolves in Minnesota, by far the largest population in any of the lower 48 states. There are about 1,500 in Wisconsin and Michigan, and a total of about 1,600 in five Western states.

There are about 100 red wolves, an endangered species, in northeastern North Carolina, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. The agency says this is the world’s only wild population of red wolves.

Protecting a population

Minnesota legislators and top state wildlife officials said their primary goal is to make certain the gray wolf doesn’t go back on the endangered species list, either because its numbers drop below 1,600 – the minimum called for in the state’s plan – or because of a lawsuit by conservation groups that challenge the state’s management.

Wolf conservation advocates supported the scope of the DNR’s outline.

“I’m proud of Minnesota,” said Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely.

No matter how many the state allows to be killed, however, the quota will be hard to meet because the wolf is notoriously difficult to hunt and trap.

Montana, with about 550 gray wolves, sold nearly 20,000 wolf-hunting licenses this fall at $19 each for residents and $350 for nonresidents. Only half the quota of 220 wolves was killed during a five-week season.