Lawmakers consider wolf hunting season
ST. PAUL - A wolf hunting and trapping season in Minnesota was one the first issues to be debated in the 2012 Minnesota legislative session.
Both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, have introduced potential parameters for gray wolf hunting and trapping seasons that would begin this year.
The discussion came a day before the state takes over control of wolf management after the animal's removal from the federal Endangered Species list. House and Senate committees discussed the issue Thursday but did not take action.
The DNR's proposal would set a joint hunting and trapping season for Nov. 24 through Jan. 5, or until a quota of 400 wolves is met. Officials suggested offering up to 6,000 licenses using a lottery system.
Dill's proposal sets a hunting season that would begin no later than the beginning of the deer season and a trapping season in January. Many lawmakers and some who testified Thursday wanted the seasons to overlap, but DNR officials emphasized a conservative approach to start.
"We are recommending a cautious approach, at least in this first season," said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. "We know there's a lot of pent up enthusiasm for a wolf season. ... We want to take our time and do this right."
There are also other differences between the bills, such as fee amounts. But Dill said he is open to some changes.
"I don't think the DNR is far off," he said. "I put the bill out to kind of throw things against the wall."
In order for the seasons to begin in the fall, lawmakers would have to approve a bill and Gov. Mark Dayton would have to sign it this session.
Control of Minnesota's wolf population will be turned over to state management Friday. That allows for the potential hunting to be established.
The change also shifts rules for killing wolves that pose a threat, a concern many lawmakers raised. The state's plan would allow shooting wolves that pose an "immediate threat" to livestock and pets. The shooting would have to be reported to the DNR.
Minnesota has a population of about 3,000 wolves, according to the DNR. The population has been stable for about a decade and needs to stay above 1,600 to ensure the species' survival, the agency noted.
The inaugural season would allow the DNR to collect information on hunter and trapper interest and success rates, officials said. The agency also will conduct a wolf population survey next winter.
"It is extremely well thought out," Dr. Dave Mech, a wolf expert with the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, said of the DNR plan. "It is conservative, we all know that, but that's deliberate I think because of the controversial nature of the wolf."
Leaders of the state Cattlemen's Association, Farmers Union, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and Minnesota Forest Zone Trapping Association testified in favor of the bill, though some also advocated for parallel wolf and deer hunting seasons.
Trapping and hunting will bring in some revenue and help with maintaining state management of the wolf, many said.
"Those are the economic drivers that allow management of the wolf by the state," Mark Johnson of the Deer Hunters Association said.
Hitting the quota won't be as easy as some might think, Mech added. Wolves generally travel in packs of six to eight, and in Minnesota there generally is one pack per about 60 to 80 square miles.
"It's difficult deliberately trying to hunt them," Mech said. "It's easy to sit here and say 'I'd love to kill a wolf' but it's not that easy once you get out there."
DANIELLE NORDINE reports for Forum Communications Co.