Wolf hunt moratorium bill advances
St. Paul — Even after the state held its first-ever regulated wolf hunting and trapping season, this much is clear: Both those who support it and those who don’t remain firmly entrenched in their positions.
The divergent positions were on full display during a Senate hearing last week on a bill that would institute a five-year moratorium on hunting and trapping wolves in Minnesota.
“Hunters are not anti-wolf,” said Wayne Johnson, treasurer of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and a member of its executive board. “We are pro wolf management. We would like to see a healthy, stable population.”
Howard Goldman, Minnesota state director for the Humane Society of the United States, contended the state “rushed” to institute a wolf season.
“This is not just another game species,” he said. “It was almost extirpated from the landscape.”
After more than an hour of testimony, the Senate Committee on Environment and Energy approved the moratorium – SF 666, authored by Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center – on a 7-6 vote.
It now goes to the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division of the Finance Committee, which Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, chairs. A committee spokesman said the bill isn’t currently on the agenda.
A House companion bill – HF 1163, authored by Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview – has been introduced and awaits action in the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee. But that committee’s chairman, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, has said he doesn’t plan to hear the bill.
Opponents of wolf hunting and trapping say the animals should be protected from harvest for five years after being removed from the endangered species list, which occurred early last year.
“We need this five years; we were promised this five years,” said Dr. Maureen Hackett, founder of Howling for Wolves. “Never before has an animal been taken off the endangered species list and hunted immediately.”
Supporters of the season say the state’s wolf population is healthy, and note the various lawsuits that caused wolf management to flip between the state and federal government.
“Now (the DNR is) in the midst of a count and we don’t know how many wolves we have,” Eaton said. “To me, it just makes common sense when you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring a species back from near extinction that you would wait and see how you were doing before you started to have a recreational hunt.”
The DNR is, indeed, working on a wolf-population estimate. According to the last estimate, from five years ago, there are about 3,000 wolves in the state. (That’s a wintertime estimate, before pups are born and when populations are at their lowest.) But DNR officials note the agency also does annual trend monitoring, and they say there’s no reason to believe the wolf population is much different today.
Both the Minnesota Farmers Union and Minnesota Farm Bureau testified in support of the wolf hunting and trapping season. John Gilbertson, who farms northwest of Bemidji, said he’s had increasing problems with wolves in recent years.
“The wolf is a beautiful animal when he’s where he belongs,” Gilbertson said. “But he’s not that beautiful when he’s in my cow yard.”
Former state Sen. John Hottinger, who testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Sierra Club, said it would honor the original intent of the state’s wolf management plan. He also said the provision that allowed the DNR to hold a season, passed during a special session to end the state government shutdown in 2007, was “one of the more blatant abuses of our legislative process in recent memory.”
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, disputed Hottinger’s assertion. The language was in a budget bill the Legislature passed and Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, she said. He ultimately signed a bill containing the language during the summer of 2011.
“When people have been led to believe this was not publicly vetted – it went through the entire legislative process,” Benson said. “… We need to be clear there were lots of hearings and lots of opportunity for input.”