Wolf season plan draws opponents
ST. PAUL -- Establishing wolf hunting and trapping seasons is popular among many at the Minnesota Legislature, but lawmakers are hearing from those who do not like the idea.
So far, opponents have not slowed House and Senate bills from advancing. The latest vote came Tuesday, when the Senate natural resources committee unanimously approved allowing the Department of Natural Resources to establish the seasons.
"We're trying to balance," Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said about his bill. "We are not trying to wipe out the wolf."
Tom Casey, a private citizen concerned about wolves, told the committee that Gazelka's bill would open up much of the state for year-around wolf hunting.
The proposal would allow Minnesotans in the area generally northeast of Brainerd to kill a wolf any time if it appeared to be an immediate threat to livestock or domestic animals. In the rest of the state, wolves could be killed at any time for almost any reason, Casey said.
Brad Sagen of near Ely, chairman of Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness, complained that wolf hunting could drive the animals out of their normal habitats into areas where they usually would not roam.
Catherine Zimmer of St. Paul, a former Alexandria-area resident, said that hunting wolves hinders her hobby: wildlife watching.
Zimmer said DNR statistics show there are four times as many wildlife watchers than hunters, and they spend more money.
The dispute over wolf hunting arose when the federal government late last year removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list, opening the possibility of hunting and trapping seasons.
About 3,000 gray wolves live in Minnesota, the largest population in the lower 48 states. The DNR says that number is about twice what is federal officials require, opening the opportunity for wolf hunting.
Sportsmen are thrilled with the possibility of a wolf season.
"This is probably one of the most historic hunting bills that have gone through the Legislature," said Gary Leaf of Sportsmen for change.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the hunting and trapping seasons basically would be a year-long test.
Farm organizations joined sportsmen in supporting the proposal.
Under the bill, Minnesota hunters and trappers would pay $26 for a license. Those from other states could not trap wolves and would pay $230 to hunt them.
The bill allows the DNR to begin the wolf hunting season at the same time deer season begins, and sportsmen say many hunters will enter a lottery to buy a wolf license so they may hunt both animals at the same time.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.