By T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
The Department of Natural Resources has set a “conservative” quota of 400 animals for its first-year hunting and trapping season on the iconic, recently delisted gray wolf.
The proposed season for this fall, Nov. 24 to Jan. 5, would blink-off once the 400 animal quota is reached. DNR officials propose the issuance of 6,000 licenses with a limit of one wolf per licensed hunter.
An application fee of $4 is proposed, with the cost of a wolf license set for $50.
DNR officials on Thursday, Jan. 26, appeared before a House environment and natural resources committee to detail their wolf proposal.
“The department has never managed wolves in Minnesota,” said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife director, of the first regulated wolf season in state history.
“We need to take our time to do this right,” Boggess said of the perceived cautious approach the DNR is taking.
Although the DNR’s wolf management plan was generally supported by lawmakers, some spoke of a “pent-up enthusiasm” for a wolf hunting season among hunters and expressed regret the DNR was not overlapping wolf hunting season with the start of the state’s gun deer season which begins in early November.
Mark Johnson of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association said he thought the notion of pent-up enthusiasm was an “underestimation.”
“We’d sure like to have it during deer season,” he said of wolf hunting.
Committee Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, indicated his support.
“You’re not alone on that,” he said, talking about the spine tingling thrill a deer hunter feels when walking out to their deer stand in the moonlight and hearing wolves howl in the distance. McNamara spoke of having gray wolves in Northern Minnesota forever.
David Mech, a senior research science with the United States Geological Service who has spent 53 years studying wolves, styled the DNR wolf management proposal as excellent. “I’m sympathetic,” he said of taking a cautious approach.
After all, some people want to see all wolves killed, others not a single one, he said.
Hunting wolves is challenging — Mech questioned whether after bagging a wolf many hunters would want to continue to hunt them.
DNR officials in western states like Montana often fail in meeting their wolf quotas, he said. “They keep extending the season,” Mech said.
But Mech also pondered whether having too many wolves killed during the first hunting and trapping season in Minnesota might not result in litigation.
Wolf packs may have ranges of 60 to 80 square miles, with the animals travelling 13, 14, 15 miles a day, he explained.
Wolves largely feed on deer in Minnesota, he said. An adult wolf consumes the equivalent of about 18 deer a year, he said. In general, deer killed by wolves are old or otherwise physically impaired, Mech said.
Killing a healthy deer is not easy for wolves, he said.
He personally has witnessed a single deer hold off three wolves, Mech said. “They couldn’t kill it,” he said.
Indeed, deer have killed wolves in Minnesota, Mech said.
They’ve caved in wolf skulls with kicks, and wolves have been killed by antler thrust into their chest, he said.
“That’s a tough one,” he said when asked whether people should fear wolves.
In recent years, two people in North American have been killed by wolves, Mech said. And it’s probably wise to show caution when dealing with large predators like wolves, he indicated.
But he suggested people need not be overly alarmed about wolves. “I myself wouldn’t be afraid to get out and camp in the woods with wolves around,” he said.
Officials from the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association and Farmers Union appeared before the committee expressing concerns over wolf predation of livestock.
“(It) seems a little low to us,” said Farmers Union Thom Petersen of the DNR’s 400 wolf quota.
The agricultural officials spoke of the elusiveness of wolves and the damage the animals can inflict on livestock.
Petersen spoke of a farm near Ogilvie on which seven problem wolves were trapped “They (the farmer) never saw them,” he said.
Under the DNR’s wolf management rules, the state is divided into Zone A — an area comprising the eastern two-thirds of Northern Minnesota, and Zone B comprising the rest of the state.
In Zone B, a person can shoot a wolf at any time to protect livestock, domestic animals or pets on land that they own, lease or manage.
The provision relating to “immediate threat,” which applies in Zone A, does not apply in Zone B. Zone A dips south near Hinckley.
It’s estimated there are about 3,000 wolves in Minnesota.
The DNR wolf management plan places a minimum population floor of 1.600 wolves.
United State Department of Agriculture officials report receiving some 211 complaints concerning wolf predation of livestock last year in Minnesota.
Ninety-six farms had verified complaints, and nine domestic dog complaints also tallied.
The complaints resulted in 215 wolves being captured and 203 killed.
Howard Goldman, of the Humane Society of the United States, questioned whether wolves had actually recovered in Minnesota and suggested nonlethal methods be used in cases of problem wolves. The number of livestock that wolves kill a year, compared to the total number raised in Minnesota, is trivial, he argued.
Wolves were delisted in Minnesota twice before though subsequent legal actions reversed the action.