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MN: Planning aplenty precedes wolf hunt

Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune

The DNR is considering various possibilities as it waits for the Legislature to weigh in on the new hunting season.

In the interview below, Department of Natural Resources fish and wildlife division director Ed Boggess discusses how wolf hunting might be conducted in Minnesota this fall. Legislation is being considered at the Capitol to guide the agency in the season-setting process.

Q Minnesota has some 450,000 deer hunters. How many hunt in the state’s wolf range?

A We estimate about 200,000.

Q The Legislature appears to be uniting behind a wolf season that coincides with the firearms deer season, as opposed to the agency’s initial proposal for a separate wolf hunt in December. In that proposal, the DNR said it would issue 6,000 permits. Do you know how many permits might be issued if wolves can be hunted concurrent with deer?

A It’s too early to tell. Initially, as you say, we proposed 6,000 wolf hunting permits with a maximum harvest of 400 wolves. The number of licenses in that case was determined by estimating approximately a 7 percent success rate for the wolf-only, December hunt. We’re trying to be conservative in this first hunt, so we’re estimating a harvest rate perhaps a little higher than we might expect. Now that the Legislature seems to be heading toward a wolf season concurrent with firearms deer, we won’t develop a formal hunting proposal until legislation is passed.

Q Will the public have a chance to comment on the plan?

A Yes. We’re committed to taking public comment, although it will occur in a compressed time frame. Time will be short. Details will be announced once we have the authorities for the season in place.

Q Is there any guide you can use to estimate what harvest might be if a wolf season is held with the firearms deer season?

A We don’t have any experience in Minnesota that we can use. We have been in contact with other states. In Montana and Idaho, for instance, they have had wolf hunting success rates of 1 percent or even less. Of course, the terrain is more open there, and the number of wolves is lower. Also, hunters aren’t as concentrated as they would be in Minnesota. Our concern is that if we have high interest, and we don’t have a way to limit the amount of hunting or trapping pressure, we could exceed the quota significantly.

We just don’t have the data right now to suggest a rate that wolves might be harvested here. That’s why we re looking at this first season as a way to gauge interest and success. We can use data gathered in it to devise future seasons, and defend ourselves in court if we have to, about how we conducted the hunt. We need data to help guide the process.

Q If a wolf hunt occurs with deer hunting, do you think 6,000 permits might be too many?

A The proposal we developed initially was for a December season in which hunters would seek wolves specifically. If we are now looking at a wolf season concurrent with the firearms season — and also another, separate wolf season like we initially proposed — we would probably have a different assumption for success rates in the two different kinds of hunts. We have not had those specific discussions yet.

Q The “second” season you reference would be in December as you initially proposed, perhaps concurrent with a wolf trapping season. Assuming the Legislature gives the DNR the latitude to have both seasons, why would you do it?

A Again, we need to see what interest and harvest rates would be for wolf hunting under different scenarios, so we can use this data to set future seasons. If we did hold both seasons, it’s likely the wolf season during the firearms deer season would have a harvest quota and a hunting permit limit, as would the second wolf season and the trapping season. That way hunting, trapping and harvesting opportunities would be fairly distributed.

Q How does the DNR envision ending the hunting and trapping seasons, assuming a harvest quota is reached — or it appears it will be reached?

A We likely will have something in the rules that will allow for some additional take on the last day that a season is open, even if it exceeds that amount. People would have to check every day before they go out to see if the season is still open. The rules will put the responsibility on hunters or trappers who have a license. They can’t assume harvesting will be legal during an entire scheduled season.