By T.W. BUDIG
ECM Capitol Reporter
Gray wolf hunting and trapping season legislation passed a Senate committee today (March 6), setting up a possible gray wolf hunting season to coincide with the opening of the gun deer season in November.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, saw his bill pass the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee after testimony both in favor and in opposition to the proposed seasons on the recently delisted gray wolf.
Gazelka spoke of finding a balance in managing the state’s wolf population, estimated at about 3,000 animals.
Sportsmen for Change and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association applaud the legislation, Sportsmen’s spokesman Garry Leaf calling it historic.
“This is our No. 1 priority of the legislative session,” said Cory Bennett of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had proposed a wolf hunting season starting after the gun deer opener, but Deer Hunters Association officials argued that having the wolf hunting season coincide with the gun deer season would provide hunters with a greater opportunity to hunt wolves.
The DNR has proposed a “conservative” hunting and trapping quota of 400 wolves statewide.
Once the quota is reached, the seasons would end.
The DNR originally proposed charging $50 for a wolf hunting license – some 6,000 would be made available for the first season.
But in committee action, the cost of the license, already lowered to $30 in the bill, was furthered cut to $26. The license would allow for the taking of one gray wolf.
But as in earlier House hearings, concerns were heard in the Senate committee about having a wolf season at all.
Catherine Zimmer of St. Paul told the committee she, like hundreds of thousands of other Minnesotans, doesn’t hunt but enjoys watching wildlife.
The 400-wolf bag quota for nature watchers translates into 400 fewer chances of hearing a wolf call, she explained.
“Seeing a living wolf is a lot more exiting than seeing a dead wolf on somebody’s wall,” Zimmer said.
Others opponents lamented the state abandoning the five-year wolf hunting moratorium after delisting that was placed into law in 2001.
Further, other opponents argued the state in reality already has a statewide wolf-hunting season.
That’s because outside of the wolf’s core range in the eastern upper third of the state, in the southern two thirds of the Minnesota, a person may shoot a wolf at any time to protect livestock, pets and land.
The “immediate threat” standard in effect in the wolf core range does not apply, though a conservation officer must be notified within 24 hours of the shooting and the wolf carcass surrender.
The 2001 statewide wolf management plan established a minimum population level for the state of at least 1,600 wolves.
A maximum wolf population ceiling was not established.
The DNR estimates there has been no significant changes in the state’s wolf population for more than a decade.
The gray wolf was federally protected for about 35 years.