Minnesota Bill calls for 5-year wolf hunt moratorium

St. Paul — The legislation that supporters of the state’s wolf hunt hoped wouldn’t come – but figured would come – is here.

Three senators have offered a bill that would place a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting in the state, and then open a season only “if population management is deemed necessary and other means for controlling the wolf population are explored.”

The bill is SF 666. The lead author is Majority Whip Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center. Co-authors are Sens. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, and Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul.

Two Republicans – Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, and Minority Leader Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie – were listed as authors but had their names removed shortly thereafter. Hann, in a prepared statement, said, “It wasn’t my intent to co-author a bill that distracts our Senate Republican Caucus from the budget and the economy.”

Eaton’s bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. A hearing on it hadn’t been scheduled as of earlier this week.

In a press release distributed by Howling for Wolves, Eaton said, “This is about fairness and doing the right thing for the majority of Minnesotans that do not want a wolf hunt. Rushing to a recreational wolf hunt immediately following their delisting from federal protections is not in the best interest of our state and it does not reflect our state’s values. Minnesotans want to have a reasonable dialogue on this issue and a five-year wait will allow us to determine how best to manage our wolves responsibly.”

The state held its first-ever regulated wolf hunting and trapping season beginning with last fall’s firearms deer opener. Hunters and trappers killed 413 wolves during an early and late season. The DNR made available a total of 6,000 licenses to hunt and trap wolves.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said his group opposes the bill and will testify against it, if it gets a hearing. He called the bill “an insult” to wolf research that has occurred.

DNR officials and others have said the state’s hunting season wouldn’t harm the wolf population, which is estimated at about 3,000 animals.
“The bill is based purely on anti-hunting sentiment for wolves,” Johnson said. “It’s not about wildlife management … It’s all about an unmanaged species. That’s what they want – they want wolves to manage themselves.” In addition to the legislation, wolves, again, are the subject of court action. The Humane Society of the United States and three other animal rights groups recently sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put the animals back on the endangered species list. The groups argue wolves haven’t recovered across their historical range, and say the state’s hunt threatens their population.

A suit in state court that argues the DNR didn’t follow proper procedures in opening the hunting and trapping season also remains in play. Hunt opponents maintain a five-year moratorium will allow the state time to assess the wolf population, and the effect of the hunting and trapping season on the population.

“A recreational hunt for trophies and pelts continues the historical persecution of wolves and sends the wrong message to young people about tolerance and inclusion in our multicultural society,” Maureen Hackett, founder of Howling for Wolves, said in a release.

It’s unclear how the bill will play at the Legislature, as the hunting and trapping season drew bipartisan support last year. Additionally, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake and chair of the environment policy committee, is a strong supporter.

He said sportsmen should be proud of the wolf hunt, but also that lawmakers receive many emails from people who want to close the wolf season.

Those emails are from the same people “who don’t want us to hunt pheasants,” he said. “They don’t want us to trap wolves. They don’t want us to trap anything, for that matter.”

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