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DNR faces court case over wolf hunt


The wolf hunt has gone to court.

Last week, two environmental groups that say the public did not get enough of a chance to weigh in on a state-approved wolf hunt in an area that includes Lake County, filed suit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources . In their complaint, a national conservation organization called the Center for Biological Diversity, and Howling for Wolves, an organization with the goal of educating the public about Minnesota's wolf population, filed suit against the DNR. The two groups have asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to grant a preliminary injunction to halt the wolf hunt scheduled to begin Nov. 3.

The DNR's Minnesota Wolf Management Plan, issued almost a dozen years ago, provides for a 5-year moratorium on wolf hunting after the animal has been removed from the endangered and threatened species lists. Last year, however, the Minnesota Legislature did away with that provision and authorized the DNR to implement a wolf hunt if it provided an opportunity for public comment. The wolf was delisted from the endangered and threatened species lists effective in January of this year.

In lieu of a formal period of public comment, however, the DNR issued an online survey, which the plaintiffs contend was inadequate.

"The state rushed to issue wolf hunting and trapping rules without giving people a real chance to voice their opinions, especially considering the tremendous controversy around hunting and trapping of Minnesota's wolves," Colette Adkins Giese, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on the group's website. "State officials should have followed the law carefully to make sure they fully understood how the public felt about their decision."

The survey had attracted several thousand responses, however, answering the question "Do you support hunting and trapping for wolves in Minnesota?" Of the 7,351 who answered, 5,809--or 79 percent--said they did not support wolf hunting and trapping, according to the DNR's webpage outlining survey results.

The webpage goes on to say that the results of the survey would not be used to determine whether or not to establish a wolf hunt. "The survey was not a referendum on whether to hold the season but to elicit comments on how the season would be implemented," it stated.

The DNR defends its approach to the management of the wolf population through establishment of a hunt. "The DNR recognizes there is a wide range of opinions toward wolf hunting and trapping, but all Minnesotans should know the DNR's primary wolf management goal is to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf. The DNR's conservative approach to this first season is based on sound conservation science and principles," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said after the lawsuit was filed.

Al Edberg of Northshore Wildlife Control, a company specializing in trapping animals that run afoul of homeowners, sees it this way, "I would not want to see wolves gone, but I just don't find anything wrong with the hunt," he said. "If we don't control the population, nature's going to control it. Nature's way is crueler than we ever thought of being, " he added, referring to diseases such as mange that have been showing up in wolves in the region.

The DNR limited the number of licenses for the hunt at 6,000. Six hundred of these will be for trapping. The harvest target for wolves in the northeast zone is 117, with a statewide harvest target of 400. The cost for a license is $30 for Minnesota residents and $350 for non-residents.

Closer to home, local activists have also taken up the cause. Reyna Crow, a spokeswoman for the Duluth-based Northwoods Wolf Alliance, has been holding Saturday protests in downtown Duluth.

"We have a broad group of people who want to protect the wolf," she said. "Kids, grannies, vegans, hunters, conservatives and liberals--it's refreshing to see so many people involved.

"I'm involved in this issue because it's my obligation to honor these animals as part of the public trust--for children and future generations," she continued. "Wildlife is part of the natural environment. If anyone can own an animal, they belong to us all. We have a responsibility to them."

Crow and the Northwoods Wolf Alliance will be hosting Wolf Walk 2012 at the Civic Center Plaza in Duluth October 20 to gather like-minded community members and try to raise awareness of their cause. "We have had sufficient feedback to indicate that there is overwhelming support for what we're doing," said Crow, "no matter what happens on Nov. 3, we're in this fight. We're not just focused on this season."

About the protests and the law suit, Edberg is philosophical. " No matter what, there are going to be people who oppose it. That's just the nature of who they are."