Minnesota hunters and trappers would be allowed to kill 400 wolves a year beginning next fall, under a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposal for the first wolf season in 30 years.
The DNR's quota announced Wednesday may not appease some farmers and hunters who believe the state's wolf population is too high, but it also may not please some who wanted the wolf to remain under federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. That federal protection ends Friday, when the state resumes control.
But even if the 400-wolf quota is reached, the impact to the wolf population would be negligible, said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist.
"I don't expect we'll see any change in wolf numbers overall,'' he said. "This number isn't intended to reduce the population. Wolves are very productive. Other wolves will replace those killed."
Reaching the quota would mean killing about 10 to 15 percent of the state's estimated 3,000 wolves, he said. The population could sustain a considerably higher harvest, but officials want to err on the side of caution.
"I think it's a sustainable number,'' said Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely. "It's a good way to start. I'm hoping it will prevent Minnesota from dealing with any lawsuits."
A hunting-trapping season could begin as soon as next fall, if approved by the Legislature.
The DNR's proposal, which will be discussed at two legislative hearings Thursday in St. Paul, sets a quota of 6,000 licenses that would be allocated through a lottery -- one license allowing one wolf kill per hunter or trapper. And the season would close if the quota is reached.
Stark said he expects the agency can easily sell 6,000 licenses. "We sell more than that for bear hunting," he said.
The wolf quota would be in addition to other causes of mortality, such as wolves killed after attacking livestock and domestic animals or in vehicle collisions. Last year, federal trappers killed 200 problem wolves.
The DNR's proposal calls for the wolf season to begin at the end of November, after the regular firearms deer season. But a bill introduced in the Legislature by Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, would require the firearms deer season and wolf season to run concurrently.
DNR officials say they want to manage wolves as a prized and high-value fur species by setting the season when pelts are most prime. The Legislature could ultimately shape the wolf season, and the DNR also will seek public comments beforehand.
Hunting would be allowed from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset, using firearms, archery equipment and muzzleloaders. The archery and muzzleloader deer seasons would coincide with the wolf season.
Under a bill proposed by the DNR, a resident wolf license would cost $50 and nonresidents would pay $230. A wolf trapping license also would cost $50, and nonresidents wouldn't be allowed to trap wolves.
Hunters who kill a wolf would have to register it. Each hunter would have to kill his own wolf, ruling out group or "party hunting," which is legal for deer hunting. However, licensed wolf hunters could assist another licensed hunter.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667