Lawmakers Seek Moratorium On Wolf Hunt
Legislation was introduced at the state Capitol Thursday to place a five-year moratorium on Minnesota’s wolf hunting season and call for other options for wolf population control.
The bill seeks to reinstate a five-year waiting period between when the federal government dropped wolves off the endangered species — which happened in 2011 — and a potential hunting season.
That five-year delay was supported by a wolf task force, the Department of Natural Resources and the 2000 Minnesota Legislature, but was erased by the 2012 Legislature. Under the Senate bill, there could be no wolf hunting until July 1, 2018.
“After that time, the commissioner may prescribe open seasons and restrictions for taking wolves, but only if population management is deemed necessary and other means for controlling the wolf population are explored,” the bill states. “The commissioner must provide opportunity for public comment.”
DNR officials maintain that the public had the opportunity to voice opinions about the wolf season early last year.
“Wolf hunting and wolf management was vetted publicly in the state Legislature,” said Chris Niskanen, DNR communications director.
Because the delisting process took several years, the five-year waiting period wasn’t necessary, Niskanen said.
“The five-year waiting period was established in 2000,” Niskanen said. “Delisting was expected in 2003, but the first delisting didn’t occur until 2007. The gist of this is, the state has proven it can manage wolves in a sustainable way. Like the management of other species, we can do it sustainably through hunting and other management practices.”
The bill faces an uphill battle, considering it was the Legislature that essentially ordered the DNR last year to start the hunting and trapping season that led to 413 wolves being killed. That was in addition to more than 200 killed by certified trappers near where farm animals had been killed, and on top of any illegal shooting, collisions with vehicles and natural mortality. So far there is no House version of the bill.
The wolf advocacy groups say that total could add up to one quarter of all wolves that live in the state, according to the DNR’s population estimate.
The DNR and wolf biologists say the hunt will have no impact on the long-term viability of the state’s wolf population and that the total harvest each year can be carefully regulated. The DNR currently is conducting its first major wolf population estimate in more than five years.
While 50 of the 201 lawmakers are newly elected, it’s not clear if the makeup of the Legislature has changed enough to end the wolf seasons.
The legislation comes one week after wolf advocacy groups filed suit in federal district court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the feds must take back wolf control because Minnesota has gone too far in killing too many wolves under state control.
Wolves were protected for some 35 years under the Endangered Species Act. But because their numbers grew beyond expectations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, they were taken off the list with management handed back to individual states.
Sponsors of the bill include Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center; Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie; Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester; Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka; and Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. The bill calls for a five-year wait before another wolf hunting season can be proposed, and only for population management purposes after other options are explored.
“This is about fairness and doing the right thing for the majority of Minnesotans that do not want a wolf hunt,’’ Eaton said in a statement released this morning. “Rushing to a recreational wolf hunt immediately following their delisting from Federal protections is not in the best interest of our state and it does not reflect our state’s values. Minnesotans want to have a reasonable dialogue on this issue and a five-year wait will allow us to determine how best to manage our wolves responsibly.”
Some 79 percent of respondents to a non-scientific DNR survey opposed the recreational hunting, trapping and snaring of wolves.
The group Howling for Wolves, which pushed the legislations, has taken a lead role in trying to stop the state wolf hunting and trapping seasons.