by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Minnesota hunters and trappers could have a new quarry next fall — the gray wolf.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday, Dec. 21 delisted the gray wolf as an endangered species in the western Great Lakes region, placing gray wolf management in Minnesota within a few weeks under control of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr styled the recovery of the iconic predator as a “tremendous success for the (federal) Endangered Species Act,” speaking in teleconference today with state media.
Minnesota’s gray wolf population is estimated at about 3,000 animals and is the largest in the lower 48 states, according to the DNR. Within Minnesota, the wolf range extends into southern Pine County — in general about 50 miles north of the metro area.
Minnesota has had a gray wolf management plan for a decade, though federal court challenges over the gray wolf’s legal status has seen state officials gain and lose control over the years, explained DNR Fish and Wildlife Director Ed Boggess.
DNR officials speak of a possible hunting and trapping season for gray wolves next fall.
Although indicating the details haven’t yet been settled, Boggess noted that a state law prohibiting a wolf season for five years after federal delisting was recently removed by state lawmakers.
The DNR commissioner has the authority to set a gray wolf hunting and trapping season, Boggess said. But DNR officials plan to bring elements of their gray wolf hunting season proposal before state lawmakers next year.
“We will not implement a season without public comment,” said Boggess of providing a public comment period.
Gray wolf numbers have been stable in Minnesota for a decade, DNR officials said. They consider a minimum population to be 1,600 wolves.
Dave Mech, a senior research scientist U.S. Geological Survey and wolf expert, expressed no concern over the proposed gray wolf hunting season. “No. None,” he said.
A hunting season would impact the social structure of wolves, Mech explained.
But wolves, like all wild animals, die all the time and the species lives on. Much of the wolf’s ability to hunt is innate — they’re born knowing, he explained.
So even wolf puppies who lose parents are capable of fending for themselves, Mech indicated.
Gray wolves are currently legally hunted in Alaska, Idaho and Montana, according to the DNR.
The issue of wolves in the past has been divisive in the Minnesota Legislature.
Lawmakers from northern Minnesota have spoken of pets allegedly being carried off by wolves, and ranchers have complained of wolves killing livestock. One Iron Range lawmaker once offered a mock amendment that would have directed the DNR to release wolves in the metro.
If the people in the metro so love wolves, they could live with them, he said tongue-in-cheek.
Minnesota will assume management for the current U.S. Department of Agriculture wolf depredation program which traps and kills gray wolves on farms were wolves are killing livestock — a DNR official said a wolf hunting season alone would not guarantee livestock predation wouldn’t occur in the future.
DNR officials expressed concern over adequate funding for assuming the new duty.
Under the federal program, as many as 200 Minnesota wolves a year causing livestock damaged were removed, according to the DNR.
Federal officials place the number of gray wolves in Wisconsin at 782 animals, with an estimated 687 wolves living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Federal officials will monitor Minnesota’s gray wolf management program for five years.
When asked if possible future legal challenges could again take away gray wolf management, DNR officials said there was no way of knowing.