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In this 2004 file photo a gray wolf is seen at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake. | Associated Press

DNR cuts number of wolf licenses

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DULUTH -- With Minnesota's estimated wolf population down about 25 percent from recent years, state Department of Natural Resources officials will allow fewer wolf hunting and trapping licenses this fall, the agency announced Monday.

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The DNR has set the statewide target harvest of wolves at 220, down from last year's target of 400. The season will open Nov. 9, opening day of Minnesota's firearms deer season.

"The changes are a management response to the most recent wolf population estimate," said Dan Stark, the DNR's large carnivore specialist. "For now, we're continuing to be conservative. We'll evaluate things year to year. When we have more long-term data to consider, we'll make adjustments. This is an approach the DNR committed to last year."

This fall's target harvest is down from last year's actual harvest of 413 wolves in the state's first regulated wolf season and the first sanctioned taking of wolves since the 1960s.

The wolf season news comes after a DNR announcement earlier this month that about 2,211 wolves are roaming Minnesota's northern forest. That estimate, based on a winter-long survey, is down about 700 animals from the most recent previous survey in 2008.

Although nearly 25 percent lower than the 2008 midpoint estimate of 2,921 wolves, the population still exceeds the state's minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400 animals.

Stark said the DNR is not trying to reduce the wolf population to any specific number.

"We're allowing for the taking of wolves through hunting and trapping that is sustainable and won't have an influence on overall wolf numbers," Stark said.

Starting Thursday, hunters and trappers can apply for 2,000 early-season and 1,300 late-season licenses. That's a reduction from 3,600 early-season and 2,400 late-season licenses in 2012. The deadline to apply for the hunting and trapping license lottery is Sept. 5.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, would like to see the target harvest higher than what the DNR has set.

"I understand their hesitancy to keep it at 400," Johnson said. "I also think that last year's season proved that 400 is not a bad number, that it could be used again. All of that said, the good point is that we're having a wolf season again. That allows the DNR a chance to validate that we can manage wolves."

Johnson believes the DNR could harvest additional wolves outside the state's designated wolf range.

"The non-wolf zone has wolves, so why not issue more permits for that?" Johnson said.

Collette Adkins Giese of Blaine with the Center for Biological Diversity, believes Minnesota should not hold a wolf season this fall.

"We're disappointed that the DNR is going to go ahead with another needless sport hunting and trapping season for wolves," she said. "Hunting strains a wolf population that's already under pressure from a declining prey population, disease, illegal killings and depredation control.

"We're glad that at least the DNR has lowered the quota in response to a 25 percent decline in the estimated wolf population."

Like last year, Minnesota's wolf season will consist of an early and a late season. The early season, in Series 100 units in Northeastern Minnesota, will run from Nov. 9 to Nov. 24, or until the early-season quota is reached. The late season for hunting and trapping seasons will open Nov. 30 and run through Jan. 31, or until the harvest quota is reached.

Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers will have a quota of 275 wolves this fall, up from a quota of 201 last year, the Wisconsin DNR announced in late June. The quota was set with the intention of continuing to reduce the state's wolf population, officials said. Wisconsin hunters and trappers took 117 wolves during the 2012 season.

Minnesota's wolf hunting and trapping seasons last fall were allowed only after the animals had recovered enough to be taken off the federal endangered species list earlier in 2012.

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