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MN: With Minnesota wolf hunt a reality, DNR is working on logistics

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune, DL-Online

Minnesotans will be able to hunt and trap wolves legally for the first time in 38 years this fall.

A wolf hunting season will begin on Nov. 3, the first day of Minnesota’s firearms deer season. The season became official when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Legislature’s Game and Fish bill on Thursday.

Now the Department of Natural Resources will have to hustle put the framework and mechanics of the season together in just a few months.

“The big issue, quite frankly, is timing,” said Dennis Simon, chief of the DNR’s section of wildlife. “We need to sequence things in the right order and they need to happen fairly quickly.”

Wolf management returned to the state in January after wolves in the Midwest were removed from the federal Endangered Species List. DNR officials say they plan to take a conservative approach to this first wolf season, with a quota of 400 animals. An estimated 3,000 wolves live in the state now.

Minnesota’s wolf hunting season will always start on the first day of the state’s firearms deer hunt, according to language in the Game and Fish bill. The DNR has the authority to set a harvest quota, structure the season, conduct a lottery to select hunters and reserve a portion of the annual quota for trappers.

The DNR has said in its proposal to the Legislature that it planned to issue 6,000 licenses to take up to 400 wolves. Hunting licenses will cost $30 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. Trapping licenses, available to residents only, will cost $30. The trapping season probably would begin Nov. 24 and continue through Jan. 5, said Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist in Grand Rapids.

Separate lotteries to select hunters and trappers probably will be held so that each group has a reasonable chance at the licenses, Stark said. Seasons also could be split, with one running during deer season and another for hunters and trappers following deer season, Stark said. Each season might have a maximum harvest of 200 wolves.

All of those details will have to be worked out in coming weeks, he said, and an online public comment period also will be held. In addition, DNR officials want to coordinate with American Indians in Minnesota to see what their plans are, if any, for hunting wolves, Simon said.

The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association understands the DNR’s conservative approach to its first wolf season, said the group’s executive director, Mark Johnson.

“The harvest, for now, if it has to be 400 to get it started, that’s OK,” Johnson said. “Eventually, we’d like to see it, going along with the biology, where up to 30 percent of the population could be harvested. We’d like to see over-the-counter licenses that cost $10 or $15 and see higher (individual) bag limits.”

To keep the harvest from exceeding the quota during a wolf season or seasons, hunters and trappers would have to register their animals the same day they are taken. Hunters and trappers would be required to monitor a telephone hot line or online site to check the status of the season and harvest, Stark said.

Simon said this first year will be something of an experiment. Nobody knows what the public’s interest in wolf hunting will be, nor how effective hunters and trappers will be in taking wolves, he said.

“We’ve always thought of this inaugural year as experimental,” Simon said. “We’ll gather information. We’ll see what works, what doesn’t work. Then we’ll make adjustments and modify in future seasons.”

Depredation claims up

Depredation claims of wolves attacking livestock or pets were up in April compared to recent years, Stark said.

“As of the end of April, about 50 wolves have been trapped and killed,” Stark said.

In all of last year, a total of 203 wolves were trapped and killed across the state, he said.

Depredation complaints are handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services crews or private trappers hired by the state, Stark said.

“Drier, milder winters are correlated to higher depredation rates the following summer,” Stark said. “Deer are healthy and in better shape to avoid wolf depredation. That has been documented.”