A lawsuit challenge for state wolf hunt

Minneapolis — Two animal rights groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota DNR to prevent upcoming wolf hunting and trapping seasons, the first hunt of which is scheduled to begin Nov. 3 in northern Minnesota.

According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity and on behalf of Howling for Wolves, the groups say they’re challenging “the agency’s failure to provide a formal opportunity for public comment on recently approved rules establishing wolf hunting and trapping.”

The Legislature established the wolf hunt this spring, and in July the DNR finalized the parameters of the first wolf hunt in the modern era. Among them, the department agreed to a 400-wolf quota, as well as two hunting seasons – one during the firearms deer season and one following the season that will include trapping. The latter season is scheduled for Nov. 24 through Jan. 31.

Through a lottery process, 6,000 hunters/trappers will be selected to participate in the seasons. About 23,000 sportsmen applied for the permits.

But, according to the CBD’s press release, the DNR failed to follow proper process.

“The state rushed to issue wolf hunting and trapping rules without giving people a real chance to voice their concerns,” said Collette Adkins Geise, a Minneapolis-based attorney with the CBD. “Especially considering the tremendous controversy around hunting and trapping of Minnesota’s wolves, state officials should have followed the law carefully to make sure they fully understood how the public felt about their decision.”

According to Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the animal rights activists had plenty of opportunity to voice concerns regarding a wolf hunt, and views the current challenge as another waste of taxpayer dollars.

“(The CBD and Howling for Wolves) are totally off-base, in large part because they were absent from the public process at the Legislature,” Johnson said. “If they would’ve been at the Legislature, they would have had their questions answered.”

Johnson points out that state wolf management – which could include a hunting season – is more than a decade in the making, since the time state and federal plans had deemed the wolf population in the state – which now stands at about 3,000 – recovered. It was then the federal government began to move toward wolf delisting and state management, something derailed a number a times during the next 10 years by animal rights groups’ lawsuits.

The CBD and Howling for Wolves, however, say most Minnesotans don’t agree with the hunt.

“Wolves already die at high rates from many causes, including human intolerance and persecution,” said Maureen Hackett, founder and president of HFW. “Minnesotans benefit economically, culturally, and ecologically by having wolves in the wild.”

DNR officials earlier this week were just beginning to examine the wolf lawsuit.

“At this point, we can’t comment,” said Ed Boggess, director the Fish and Wildlife Division. “We’re just becoming aware of (the lawsuit).”

According to the CBD press release and a motion for preliminary injunction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the lawsuit asks the court “to prevent implementation of wolf hunting and trapping rules until the court can issue its decision in the case.”

How it will play out remains to be seen.

Outdoor News columnist and attorney Kirk Schnitker expects the hunt to survive the challenge.

“(The groups’) plea to the court is that the DNR has failed to give them enough time to object,” Schnitker said Tuesday in an e-mail response. “As an attorney, do I tell a judge 100 times that he should rule in my favor? Of course not. We should expect nothing less from these anti-hunting and fishing groups. They challenge lawful hunts on any grounds they can imagine.

“Their method here is to go directly to the court of appeals because (it) has jurisdiction in this type of administrative rule-making,” he said.

“(The groups) also seek an injunction to stop the season pending a decision on the lawsuit. Our courts have treated mainstream hunting and fishing management favorably in this state, and my hope is that it will be the same in this obstructionist litigation,” Schnitker wrote.

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