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Danielle Nordine, State Capitol Bureau, Published January 26 2012

Minnesota lawmakers consider new wolf hunting season

ST. PAUL – A wolf hunting and trapping season in Minnesota was one the first issues to be debated in the 2012 Minnesota legislative session.

Both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, have introduced potential parameters for gray wolf hunting and trapping seasons that would begin this year.

The discussion came in House and Senate committees on Thursday, a day before the state takes over control of wolf management after the animal’s removal from the federal Endangered Species list.

No action was taken.

The DNR’s proposal would set a joint hunting and trapping season for Nov. 24 through Jan. 5, or until a quota of 400 wolves is met. Officials suggested offering up to 6,000 licenses using a lottery system.

Dill’s proposal sets a hunting season that would begin no later than the beginning of the deer season and a trapping season in January. Many lawmakers and some who testified Thursday wanted the seasons to overlap, but DNR officials emphasized a conservative approach to start.

“We are recommending a cautious approach, at least in this first season,” said Ed Boggess, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. “We know there’s a lot of pent-up enthusiasm for a wolf season. … We want to take our time and do this right.”

There are other differences between the bills, such as fee amounts, but Dill said he is open to some changes.

“I don’t think the DNR is far off,” he said. “I put the bill out to kind of throw things against the wall.”

In order for the seasons to begin in the fall, lawmakers would have to approve a bill and Gov. Mark Dayton would have to sign it this session.

Control of Minnesota’s wolf population will be turned over to state management today. The state’s plan would allow shooting wolves that pose an “immediate threat” to livestock and pets. The shooting would have to be reported to the DNR.

The DNR says Minnesota has a population of about 3,000 wolves. The population has been stable for about a decade and needs to stay above 1,600 to ensure the species’ survival, the agency noted.

The inaugural season would allow the DNR to collect information on hunter and trapper interest and success rates, officials said. The agency also will conduct a wolf population survey next winter.

“It is extremely well thought out,” Dr. Dave Mech, a wolf expert with the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, said of the DNR plan. “It is conservative, we all know that, but that’s deliberate I think because of the controversial nature of the wolf.”

Leaders of the state Cattlemen’s Association, Farmers Union, Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and Minnesota Forest Zone Trapping Association testified in favor of the bill, though some also advocated for parallel wolf and deer hunting seasons.

Danielle Nordine reports for Forum Communications Co.