Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. PAUL (WCCO) – In a packed state capitol hearing room, Minnesota lawmakers are refining something that hasn’t been done in 40 years. They are tackling the contentious and controversial subject concerning the hunting and trapping regulations for Minnesota’s Gray Wolves.
Ever since the wolves went on the federal Endangered Species Act in 1974, Minnesota’s population of gray wolves has been on the rebound. Today, an estimated 3,000 wolves now populate the northern half of Minnesota. That number far exceeds the level set by the Department of the Interior as a species no longer in need of federal protection.
Nobody has spent more time or effort on wolf research that Dr. David Mech. At the legislative hearing, Mech told lawmakers, “there will be a certain number of people who want to hang a wolf rug on the wall. But after you get that first rug, how many more do you really want to put on your wall?”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources expects to allocate 6,000 hunting and trapping licenses for wolves next fall. The management plan sets a first year quota on the number of wolves harvested at no more than 400. That is roughly 13 percent of the total population.
“The wolf is a very much an iconic figure here in Minnesota,” said Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely.
Gibson says the reason the wolves can now be de-listed and turned over to the states is that the Endangered Species Act did exactly what it was designed to do – protect the wolves to give them time to repopulate to a safe and sustainable number.
Gibson believes that the state’s management plan is based on years of sound science, but she adds, “We’ve got to get this one right.”
She fears if too many special interests are allowed to change the plan, that could invite costly lawsuits and federal intervention.
“Wolves are very controversial, they’re a magnet for controversy. There are people who love them and hate them and I think what (the DNR) has been able to do is blend those two,” she said.
Yet, at public hearings on the plan, differences over management and hunting seasons remain. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association is pushing for the wolf season to coincide with theirs, saying it would help improve the harvest.
Finally, the State Cattleman’s Association fears a lack of money to help control problem wolves, leaves both livestock and their livelihood at risk. Under federal control the U.S. Department of Agriculture would pay to trap depredating wolves, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. Now that the state is assuming management, the USDA is out of the picture and not funding controls for problem wolves.
“Just a month from now calving season starts and there’s going to be wolves killing cattle. Unfortunately, the biggest problem now is we don’t have the trappers available to respond to wolf complaints,” said the Cattleman’s Executive Director Joe Martin.