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Controversial wolf season details announced

Photo courtesy of MN DNR

Minnesota will join the likes of Idaho, Montana and Alaska with its first wolf hunting season this winter.

Last Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released specifics of the 2012-2013 wolf seasons. Since the bill passed in April, the DNR has been solidifying the details of how the process will work. The most recent step was an online public survey.

"Thank you for finally allowing a wolf hunt. The job of restoring the wolf numbers was a great success and I know our DNR will now manage the wolf population successfully," a respondent said.

Since the wolf season has already been approved by the state Legislature, the online surveys were designed for potential hunters. Steve Merchant, the DNR wildlife program manager, said the DNR was looking for input on how to structure the seasons.

Still, plenty of opponents made their voices heard. About 80 percent of the 7,000 respondents opposed a wolf season altogether.

"Your attitude unfortunately seems to be to shoot first and study the situation later, which is irresponsible stewardship of our iconic state wolves," one survey respondent said.

Despite the opposition, the DNR did hear from people who support the hunt.

As originally proposed, the two-season structure will remain. The early season, for hunters only, will coincide with deer season in November. The late season, which will allow trapping, will start in late November and go until January. The most significant changes were in season length and zones for hunting, Merchant said.

The late season was originally to close on Jan. 6, but survey respondents preferred an extension to Jan. 31.

Only the northern half of the state will allow wolf hunting, the same half where it's currently legal to use rifles for deer hunting. That region will then be split into three zones. The zones are loosely based on American Indian treaties.

Many local American Indian bands, including Fond du Lac and Grand Portage, have off-reservation hunting rights based on treaties from the 1800s. The DNR structured the two eastern zones around these treaties to more easily work with tribal interests as they come up, said Ed Boggess, director of fish and wildlife for the DNR. The third zone is the remaining legal hunting land.

While the total target for the state is 400, each zone's limit is different. The northeast zone, where Lake County is located, has a target of 117 wolves. The zone system will help the DNR quickly close areas when the targets are reached, Merchant said.

"People will still be able to hunt wherever they want to, but we can close those zones when our target harvests are received," Boggess said. Hunters have to register their wolf on the same day it's taken and will be required to check the DNR website or call a toll-free number every day to check if the hunt has been closed.

According to the DNR, Minnesota has the highest population of wolves in the lower 48 states -- about 3,000. They were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in January 2012 and their management was turned over to the state.

Generally, a five-year waiting period is required after removal from the list before a wolf season begins. The Minnesota Legislature pushed it through without the waiting period. Merchant said the minimum population to be taken off the endangered species list -- 1,400 -- was met decades ago and the state Legislature was supportive of the wolf hunt, which helped speed up the process.

There has been opposition to the wolf hunt from both the general public and local American Indian tribes. According to the Star Tribune, Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, wrote a letter to the DNR this spring calling wolf hunting "inappropriate" because of the Ojibwe connection to the animals.

The DNR-compiled opposition comments object to "inhumane trapping," call wolf-hunting "trophy killing" and say the method of informing hunters when the target harvest has been reached is "a sick joke."

The only public survey offered was the June survey.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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