DNR: No discussion on wolf season

St. Paul — Hunters and trappers hoping for a long-shot chance to pursue gray wolves in Minnesota this fall for the first time in more than half a decade will have to wait.

For one thing, according to the state DNR, an updated wolf-management plan, which officials say must be completed before a hunting/trapping season is even considered, isn’t yet complete. In fact, it’s far from it. For another, the state’s governor hasn’t shown support for such a management season.

Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist in Grand Rapids, last week said the current goal is completion of the updated plan by early next year. Thus, “There are no plans for a (wolf hunting/trapping) season this fall,” he added.

Stark said it’s expected that a 20-member Wolf Plan Advisory Committee will meet twice more this year. It’s been several weeks since the diverse group last met virtually. The first of the two meetings would focus on the hunting and trapping of wolves; the second would allow members to consider feedback from the public.

Since the beginning of 2020, there have been four advisory committee meetings, he said. Stark said, however, there’s been a recent “pause” in committee meetings.

“It’s an important discussion,” he said. “We just want to make sure we do it in a way that we get it right.”

Mike Larson, the department’s acting Wildlife Section manager, said other parts of the process also dictate when the group meets. For example, he said, a technical committee reviews information, as does DNR leadership. The technical committee consists of tribal natural resources departments and federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others.

“We want to have a substantial agenda for that group (to consider),” he said.

Larson said there haven’t been discussions about a potential wolf harvest season.

“We’re not talking about a season,” he said. “The issue of the state potentially holding one at any point in the future is down the road.”

Direction for a possible future harvest season, he added, would “have to come from higher up,” referencing the governor’s office.

According to the DNR’s Wolf Plan Advisory Committee web page, “Members are appointed for the length of the wolf plan update process (approximately January 2020 – January 2021).”

Membership on the committee includes at-large, unaffiliated wolf interests; at-large wolf stakeholders representing wolf advocacy and animal rights groups; representatives of livestock and agriculture interests; representatives of hunting and trapping organizations; and representatives of forestry, conservation, environmental, local/county governments, and other stakeholder organizations.

Stark said there’s no updated timeline on when meetings would be held or the planning process completed.

Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association on the committee, said he expected, even given COVID-19 complications during the past year, that the process would’ve been wrapped up, allowing for a potential wolf season this fall.

Leistico said there was “no basis” for a pause in committee virtual get-togethers. Committee members needed no additional information regarding wolves, and members weren’t waiting on the latest wolf survey or anything similar to help guide their decisions.

“Science is science, and the wolf should be managed by science,” he said, adding that there must also be a degree of social consideration regarding management of the species.

“I’ve talked with thousands of trappers in the Midwest (wolves inhabit Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as Minnesota) and they want to be part of the management strategy,” Leistico said.

“Right now, I do not see a reason why the committee needed to wait this long … and I’m disappointed in that,” he said.

The committee process was unaffected by the official delisting of wolves by the Department of the Interior in January.

An Outdoor News story regarding that delisting included the following: “Details about various aspects of state wolf management are still being ironed out, according to (Stark). As far as hunting and trapping in the future, much will depend on an ongoing process to update the state’s wolf management plan, which, Stark said, is due for completion sometime this summer.”

The story also included a statement from the Minnesota group Howling for Wolves: “The vast majority of Minnesotans, Gov. (Tim) Walz and Lt. Gov. (Peggy) Flanagan, and many lawmakers want the wolf protected for future generations. Working to promote nonlethal methods is crucial to that objective.”

Larson said there is benefit in, sooner than later, completing the wolf plan update, a process not undertaken in two decades. But he said from the outset that the year-long timeline was considered by the agency to be “aggressive.”

Larson said the agency didn’t want to “overtax” the volunteer committee members, who initially were told the commitment was for a year.

But the pandemic and the amount of public input into the process have meant more time needed to complete the process.

That, he added, is a good thing.

“We approach our public engagement in a better and more robust way than we ever have,” he said.

According to the DNR, there currently are about 2,700 wolves across nearly 40,000 square miles in northern and central Minnesota.

The state of Wisconsin held a wolf hunt in February, during which state-licensed hunters killed 218 wolves in four days. Their quota was 119 animals.

More recently, a study published by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this week concluded that the presence of wolves significantly decreases the number of deer-vehicle collisions.

According to the study’s abstract, the researchers state: “We show that, for the average county, wolf entry reduced (deer-vehicle collisions) by 24%, yielding an economic benefit that is 63 times greater than the costs of verified wolf predation on livestock. Most of the reduction is due to a behavioral response of deer to wolves rather than through a deer population decline from wolf predation. This finding supports ecological research emphasizing the role of predators in creating a ‘landscape of fear.’ It suggests wolves control economic damages from overabundant deer in ways that human deer hunters cannot.”

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