The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced they'll distribute fewer wolf hunting and trapping licenses due to a thinner wolf population.
On Thursday, hunters and trappers can enter the lottery for 2,000 early season and 1,300 late season licenses. That's a significant reduction from last year's 3,600 early season and 2,400 late season licenses. Wolf season opens on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Minnesota has the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states, but the DNR's 2013 wolf population survey estimated a 710-wolf reduction from 2,211 wolves last winter compared to 2,921 in the winter of 2008. That 25 percent population drop has the DNR rethinking its numbers.
"The changes are a management response to the most-recent wolf population estimate," said Dan Stark, the DNR's large carnivore specialist. "As with other game species DNR manages, adjustments are made to regulate hunting pressure and harvest to ensure long-term population sustainability and provide hunting and trapping opportunities."
The DNR set the statewide target harvest of wolves at 220, which is 180 fewer than last season. Last year, hunters had no trouble meeting the limit. In fact, the season closed a month early.
"We weren't surprised with the trapping success, but the hunting success was a little bit higher than we expected," Paul Telander, the DNR's wildlife section chief, admitted.
With the harvest halved, the state expects competition for the licenses, which cost $30 for residents and $250 for nonresidents.
About 2,600 wolf pups may have been born this spring, some of which will survive and be counted in next year's population estimate.
According to the DNR, wolf seasons and quotas are set based on long-term sustainability; however, some advocacy groups urged the agency to manage wolves as a prized, high-value fur species by setting the season when the pelts are of highest value. The effort failed this past legislative session because the DNR said it's continued priority is to ensure the long-term survival of Minnesota wolves and resolve the rare conflicts between wolves and humans.
The state's plan calls for a minimum population goal of 1,600 animals, but there are plenty of people who don't want to see any reduction to that point. Some animal rights advocates argue that the DNR's first priority should be to remember that wolves spent 38 years on the endangered species list.
With a population flux after the state's first hunt, the group Howling for Wolves is renewing calls to end the hunt altogether.
"We're just saying, 'Look, we don't need to hunt them,'" Maureen Hackett said. "The population was stable without a hunt. Let's focus on keeping our wolves for future generations."
Yet, wildlife managers contend the hunt is not the main factor in the population decline. Instead, Telander said a drop in their food source is most likely to blame.
"If you look at our deer population across the wolf range, they've declined about 25 percent since 2008," he said. "The wolf population tracks real closely with that deer population."
Howling for Wolves argues that a recreational wolf hunt doesn't help farmers or others in wolf territory because state law already allows people to kill wolves that are perceived as a threat to livestock or pets.
Howling for Wolves also contends that hunting methods, including snaring, baiting, trapping and using the calls of crying pups to lure animals, are inhumane and unethical. They urge anyone who feels opposed to the hunt to contact state lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton to keep lawmakers involved on the issue. They also encourage writing letters to editors and local papers to raise awareness.
- DNR: Wolves: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html
- Howling For Wolves: howlingforwolves.org