By Sam Cook, Forum Communications
DULUTH — Minnesota’s Northeast Wolf Zone will close at the end of shooting hours Thursday because the harvest is close to the zone’s quota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday.
By midday Wednesday, hunters had killed 57 wolves in that zone, one short of the harvest quota of 58 wolves.
The East-Central zone had closed on Nov. 5 after hunters had killed eight wolves. The harvest quota for that zone is nine.
Only the Northwest Zone will remain open. Hunters there had taken 60 wolves as of Wednesday. The harvest quota for that zone is 133.
Overall, by midday Wednesday, wolf hunters had taken a total of 125 wolves in the state’s early hunting season, which runs concurrently with the firearms deer hunt in areas where rifles are permitted. The overall harvest quota for all three wolf zones is 200, but the DNR had said before the hunt that individual zones would be closed if a zone’s wolf harvest quota was reached or about to be reached.
A total of 3,600 wolf licenses were issued to hunters for the early season, which opened Nov. 3.
“We knew going in that we were going to learn a lot, and that Minnesota was unique in a lot of ways,” said Steve Merchant, the DNR’s wildlife population and regulation program manager. “We learned that they did come in pretty quickly. I think the Wisconsin hunt kind of gave us an indication that might be the case.”
Wisconsin’s wolf season opened Oct. 15 for both hunters and trappers, and the harvest stood at 73 as of Wednesday.
Successful hunters have to present the carcasses of their wolves to DNR wildlife officials for examination. Chris Balzer, DNR area wildlife manager at Cloquet, has examined 11 carcasses and spoken with the hunters.
“The vast majority of them have just been out deer hunting and carrying a wolf tag and taking them (wolves) opportunistically,” Balzer said. “A couple of guys did put out some meat scraps near their stands.”
Balzer said he thought the harvest would drop off after the first weekend of the wolf hunt, when 50 wolves had been taken. But it continued to rise steadily. Through Nov. 11, after nine days of hunting, wolf hunters had taken 110 wolves, Merchant said.
Balzer said most successful wolf hunters he spoke to planned to have their wolf hides tanned or to have the wolf mounted in some form. A few said they would keep the skull and sell the hide.
Minnesota’s late wolf hunting and trapping season will open Nov. 24 and run through Jan. 31. A total of 2,400 licenses are available for that season, and the harvest quota will be 200.
Overall, Minnesota’s total wolf harvest quota is 400. The state’s wolf population is estimated at 3,000, but with pups, the population can swell to as many as 5,000 or more at this time of year, wildlife biologists say.
This is Minnesota’s first managed wolf hunt. Minnesota’s wolves were given protection under the federal Endangered Species Act starting in 1974, when Minnesota’s wolf population was estimated at 500. Before 1965, a bounty had been offered on wolves in Minnesota.
Gray wolves in Minnesota were removed from the Endangered Species List in January, and wolf management was turned over to the state.