Minnesota legislature deliberates wolf hunting after removal from Endangered Species List

Gray wolf
Gray wolf (Photo by Isster17 via Wikipedia)

Two bills introduced in the Minnesota state capitol last month would either mandate a wolf hunting season this fall, or prohibit it. The opposing efforts began after wolves lost Endangered Species Act protections last October.

State governments are now in charge of managing wolf populations — including the power to allow hunting and trapping, or not. Currently, Minnesota law gives the Department of Natural Resources the authority to create hunting seasons once the animals were removed from the Endangered Species List. The recent actions in St. Paul would effectively remove that power.

In a study released by the DNR last June, the agency reported the results of surveys of Minnesota residents, livestock producers, and hunters about wolf management. Nearly 90 percent of Minnesotans say it’s important to maintain a healthy wolf population in the state, and the lowest three priorities for management were killing wolves for almost any reason except threats to human life.

There are believed to be about 2,500 wolves in Minnesota, ranging as far south as Chisago County. Prior to European settlement, wolves lived across North America. When wolves were briefly removed from the Endangered Species List in 2012, three years of hunting and trapping occurred. Hunters killed 413 wolves in 2012, 238 in 2013, and 272 in 2014, before a federal judge restored endangered species protections.

The state is in the middle of updating its wolf management plan for the first time in 20 years. The current plan, adopted in February 2001 after a lengthy process, called for no wolf hunting until five years after they were removed from federal protection.

Recently in Wisconsin, hunting proponents and a judge forced a wolf hunting season as soon as possible after the animals were Endangered Species delisting. The season exceeded all harvest targets, with 216 wolves killed — almost 100 more than the DNR had intended, representing about 20 percent of the state’s population.

Protecting packs

Rep. Pete Fischer
(Courtesy MN Legislature)

The first legislation in Minnesota (HF 1498, SF 1144) would block the DNR from opening a wolf season this year. Introduced by DFLers Rep. Pete Fischer of Maplewood and Sen. Chris Eaton of Brooklyn Center, the bill would prevent any hunting for now.

Wolf supporters say a hunting season would cause more conflict, not less. The random nature of wolf hunting means an entire pack can suffer if one is killed. Packs suddenly missing important members may also change their behavior, possibly attacking livestock or causing other problems.

“Wolf trophy hunting destroys wolf packs and kills additional wolves outside of the hunts,” said Maureen Hackett, director of Minnesota wolf advocacy group Howling For Wolves. “This creates chaos and unpredictable problems for farmers and people. Instead, we need nonlethal plans that can prevent conflicts with livestock. We need to leave wolves undisturbed to function as social packs.”

Neither the House nor Senate versions of the hunting prohibition have any co-authors yet. The legislation was referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committees in both chambers, but has not yet received a hearing.

Population control

Rep. Spencer Igo
(Courtesy MN Legislature)

The second legislation (HF 829, SF 600) would require the DNR to hold a hunt is sponsored by Republican lawmakers from Grand Rapids. It would create a wolf hunting and trapping season this fall concurrent with the firearm deer hunting season.

“We here in our Northland know the importance of being good stewards of the environment,” said Rep. Igo. “It is no surprise that the wolf population in Minnesota has grown and flourished and with that, it has come time to manage this population to protect not only our family pets and livestock, but our entire ecosystem. I am committed to working with the DNR and through existing statute to allow for a limited hunting and trapping season to control the wolf population. This legislation is an important step in starting the dialogue and I look forward to having this conversation.”

One DFL representative has also co-sponsored the pro-hunting legislation, Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls. Former DFL state senator Tom Bakk and Dave Tomassoni of northern Minnesota have signed on in support of the Senate companion bill.

The bill would require the DNR to hold one or more open seasons this November, allowing firearm hunting, trapping, and archery. Many hunters will already be afield for the deer season, allowing them to kill a wolf if they get the opportunity. In last year’s survey by the DNR, the agency found high support for wolf hunting among deer hunters. While two thirds believe a wolf population in Minnesota is important, most also said they would like a wolf season.

The legislation was referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committees in both chambers, but has not yet received a hearing from either panel.

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