The hunt will go on.

The last legal effort to block Minnesota's first managed wolf hunt fell short Wednesday, when the Minnesota Court of Appeals refused to grant a petition by two wildlife groups that asked the court to stop it while their underlying case proceeds.

The court said the two groups failed to show that proceeding with the hunt would cause irreparable harm. But, the court said, it will allow the groups to proceed with a legal complaint challenging whether the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) allowed adequate public input into the process.

A decision on that challenge is not expected until next year.

The decision by the three-judge panel pointed out that the Legislature, not the DNR, established the rules for the hunt. And, it said, "Petitioners failed to identify any claimed irreparable harm attributable to the DNR rules, rather than the Legislature's decision to authorize wolf hunting."

The proposed hunt -- the first legal killing of wolves in Minnesota since the 1970s -- has triggered emotional opposition from some wildlife advocates, including a billboard and media campaign in the Twin Cities and Duluth.

At the same time, wolf experts both in and outside the state DNR have said that even if hunters and trappers kill 400 wolves, it will not have a major impact on the population because wolves can double their number each year.

"We are pleased with the court's decision," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "It resolves any uncertainty that hunters and trappers might have had about the upcoming season."

400 wolves

Opponents said they'll press their challenge.

"I'm deeply disappointed by the court's decision, which unleashes 6,000 hunters and trappers to go out and kill 400 wolves," said Collette Adkins Giese, a Minneapolis-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the two petitioners. A national advocacy group, the organization had for years successfully used the courts to stop the removal of the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list.

The center, together with a local group called Howling for Wolves, asked the appeals court to stop the hunt, arguing that state officials violated their own rules when they failed to give the public adequate chance to weigh in on the state's hunting plan. Howling for Wolves is the group behind an anti-hunt media and billboard campaign.

Season begins Nov. 3

The plan by the DNR calls for a quota of 400 animals between Nov. 3, when the season starts in concert with the opening of deer gun hunting, and Jan. 31. About 23,000 people from across the country applied for licenses, which now will be given to 6,000 hunters through a lottery.

The DNR typically conducts public hearings and a comment period when making major new rules concerning the state's natural resources. But in this case it posted an anonymous survey on its website in July, seeking public reaction to proposed details of the hunt.

The vast majority of people who responded to the survey objected to the hunt. Of 7,351 responses, 5,809 people opposed it, though Giese acknowledged that center put out an action alert to its members, including about 5,000 in Minnesota, asking them to respond.

State officials said the survey and the legislative process provided adequate opportunity for public input.

The hunt was approved by the Legislature earlier this year following the removal of the Great Lakes gray wolf from the endangered species list in 2011. After decades of federal protection, there are now about 3,000 gray wolves in Minnesota.

DNR officials said their primary goal is wolf preservation and conservation, and that a total of 400 animals is conservative. They plan to close the hunt when the target is reached. 

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394