By Dave Orrick
Minnesota’s first wolf hunting and trapping season this fall will be longer than originally envisioned and will divide the state into three geographic zones, officials announced Thursday.
The changes announced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were in response to feedback they received from the public and serve to minimize a potentially thorny issue with some American Indian bands.
The number of wolves that can be killed before the hunt is shut down — 400 — has not changed; the number of licenses that can be sold — 6,000, including at least 600 for trappers — also remains unchanged. Despite a common contention that the state’s wolf population is expanding, federal and state scientists estimate the number at 3,000 and stable.
The details laid out by the DNR Thursday keep the quota “conservative,” in the words of several officials, an attempt to ensure the population doesn’t drop below a federal threshold that could trigger a resumption of endangered species protections. Steve Merchant, the DNR’s wildlife program manager, said the agency has also tightened the requirement for hunters to register their kills — 10 p.m. that day — so the hunt can be shut down quickly once the quota is reached in each zone.
The three zones — northwest, northeast and east-central — allow the DNR more closely manage the hunt. Two of the zones, northeast and east-central, follow the borders of lands where tribal members are allowed to hunt off-reservation.
Treaties allow the tribes to claim up to half the quota of animals. Some Midwestern Indians regard the wolf as sacred, and there was a concern among some involved in the wolf hunt that the tribes could claim up to 200 animals but choose not to kill any. Although no Minnesota tribal authorities have publicly announced such a plan, the phenomenon likely would have angered non-tribal hunters eager for a chance. Under the new regimen, tribes could claim no more than 68 wolves.
There will be two seasons. The first will run from Nov. 3, the firearms deer opener, until the end of the firearms deer season, either Nov. 11 or Nov. 18, depending on the deer zone. The second season, the only one open to trapping, will run from Nov. 24 to Jan. 31, some 25 days later than initially planned. If a quota for a zone is reach before any of the above dates, that zone’s season will end.
For more details of the hunt, go to blog.twincities.com/outdoors.
The wolf hunting season — hunters’ first chance to legally kill a wolf in decades — is the result of the animal’s successful comeback under federal protection, after nearly being wiped out from the lower 48 states. Wisconsin and Michigan are similarly planning inaugural hunts this fall.