By Elizabeth Dunbar
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Friday it will propose a new wolf hunting season for as early as this fall.
The state expects management of the population to fall back into its hands after the gray wolf in the Great Lakes region is officially removed from federal protection later this month.
The DNR is seeking authority from the Legislature to create a new wolf license that would be available through a lottery system. The hunting season, which would include trapping, would likely take place between late November and early January, said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist.
DNR officials said it has not yet set the number of licenses it will distribute or a target harvest rate. The first hunting season will be conservative so that the DNR can begin to collect data on how successful hunters are and how the wolf population responds, officials said.
There are approximately 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, and Stark said the population needs to stay above 1,600 to remain sustainable. But he said success rates among wolf hunters in other states have been very low.
“It’s kind of an opportunistic thing,” he said. “Trappers targeting wolves are probably going to be more effective.”
It will be the third time the federal government removes Great Lakes region wolves from the Endangered Species Act. The other two times, the wolf was put back under protection following legal action by some animal rights and conservation groups.
A legal challenge is still possible this time, and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr acknowledged that hunting wolves will be a sensitive issue.
“The wolf is really an iconic species in Minnesota,” he said. “We need to proceed with care.”
Landwehr said the state has a history of managing game species responsibly.
“We take this conditional opportunity seriously, and we’re going to demonstrate that we can do it right,” he said.
Ed Boggess, director of the DNR Fish and Wildlife Division, said many of the specifics of the proposed hunt still have to be worked out. He expects that will happen during the upcoming legislative session.
Boggess said DNR officials will propose starting with a small number of licenses to be cautious.
“We don’t want to do anything that would get the wolf put back on the list,” he said.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, oversees DNR matters at the Legislature and said he supports a wolf hunting season. Ingebrigtsen said he wants to see the DNR’s specific proposal but will do what he can to expedite legislation to allow the hunt.