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Opinions sharply divided on wolf hunting

Minnesota state Rep. John Persell of Bemidji sorts through paperwork Tuesday night as he prrepares for a legislative committee meeting dealing with wolf management. Don Davis | Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Opinions remain sharply divided about whether Minnesota should allow wolf hunts, and Tuesday night a state lawmaker also questioned whether state officials are doing a good job of managing wolves.

Rep. Jason Isaacson, D-Shoreview, said the state Department of Natural Resources needs to do more to track wolves.

“I struggle with the idea that we are doing all we can,” said Isaacson, an opponent of allowing wolves to be hunted.

He lectured DNR officials testifying to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, saying he has obtained a department email that said: “We owe it to our primary clients, who we have identified as the hunters and trappers.”

However, Isaacson said, the DNR direction is wrong. “Your primary concern should be the people of Minnesota.”

On the other hand, Republicans praised the DNR.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, thanked the DNR for allowing a smaller percentage of wolf hunters than in Wisconsin.

“We are dealing with two very iconic species of animals,” McNamara said, the gray wolf and moose.

Keeping the number of hunters down should help more moose survive, he added.

DNR officials said moose often are victims of wolves, part of the reason moose numbers are falling while wolf numbers increase.

Moose food sources are dwindling in northern Minnesota, DNR officials said. That is the prime wolf area.

Cook veterinarian John Fisher said the moose population “is near collapse” in Minnesota, while in most places in the world the species is doing fine. He quoted a Canadian study showing that reducing wolf numbers slightly can help moose.

The meeting, for information with no action being taken, heard that an estimated 2,000 wolves live in Minnesota today, down from 2,900 in 2009. Just 750 were counted in the 1950s.

In 2012, 413 wolves were killed by hunters, and 237 were killed last year.

DNR leaders say they are doing a good job of managing wolves two years after the federal government removed the animal from its endangered species list.

However, wolf supporters challenged that view.

“The public is not behind the hunt,” declared Howard Goldman of the Minnesota humane society.

“What is the reason behind the hunt?” he asked. “They are not stalks of corn.”

A White Earth Nation official, Terry Tibbits, complained the state ignores American Indian requests to prevent hunting on reservations.

White Earth declared itself a wolf sanctuary, Tibbits said, with no hunting allowed. However, he added, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr has “refused to respect tribal law.”

In response to questions by Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, DNR official Ed Boggess said the state is in the process of meeting with Indian leaders.

“We did get off to a bumpy start,” he admitted, when the DNR did not adequately deal with tribes.

Persell pointed out the change came after Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order requiring state officials to work more closely with tribal officials.

Robert Shimek of White Earth called legislators supporting the wolf hunt racist, saying the law allowing the hunt is “one of the most colonial legislation that has come out of this body in many, many years.”

“It is the White Earth Indian Nation, not the White Earth white man’s nation,” he said.

Barry Babcock of the Bemidji area said wolf hunting is needed to control deer.

“We are bursting at the seams with a deer herd ...” he said. “Deer hunting used to be really tough.”

The Sierra Club’s Lois Norrgard of the Twin Cities argued against a wolf hunt, saying, “We are fast approaching a population threshold” that endangers wolves’ survival.

Duluth-area farmer Kathleen Zweber said the state needs to work more to prevent wolf conflicts with other animals and people. That, she said, is better than reacting to problems after they occur.

“We have a duty to understand the environment,” she said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.