An ill-timed problem with the tally of wolves taken during Minnesota's closely scrutinized hunting and trapping season is giving opponents a new reason to object, but the state says the computer glitch is nothing to get worked up about.
The New Year's Day hiccup, as with nearly everything involving the emotion-charged debate, had passions inflamed. Groups that object to the hunt called it emblematic of a bigger problem with the state's new wolf season, which is nearing its end.
The problem began Tuesday morning when the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website that hunters and trappers are required to check wasn't posting its running tally of wolves taken in the northwest region of the state -- the last region still open. The tally tells hunters and trappers whether the quota has been met. A hot line hunters are required to call before venturing out also had a recorded message saying the season had been closed.
As of Tuesday evening, however, 170 wolves had been taken in the region, 17 short of the 187 allowed, and the season remains open until that number is reached. The northwest region stretches from the northwest corner of the state to Lake Mille Lacs.
"We have manually updated the website, but the problem with the actual live feed of the harvest numbers has not been resolved," said Chris Niskanen, DNR spokesman. The problem had been identified by the DNR's website vendor -- and likely had something to do with the change in years -- but won't be fixed until first thing Wednesday morning. Both the tally number, listed on the website Tuesday as "pending," and phone message will be updated then.
"We are not concerned about going over the harvest target of 187 for that zone at this time," Niskanen said, adding the glitch "is just a bump in the road in the big picture of something the DNR's been working on for more than 15 years."
Opponents of the wolf hunt, who plan to carry on their fight both in the upcoming session of the Legislature and before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, said losing track of the wolf tally -- even briefly -- reinforces their concerns over how the hunt has been handled from the start.
"Definitely, it's troubling," said Collette Adkins Giese, the attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of two groups that argued unsuccessfully before the state Supreme Court last year for an injunction to stop the new season.
Trappers and hunters have been registering about eight wolves a day in recent weeks, said Dan Stark, the DNR's wolf specialist, with trappers accounting for the majority of the animals. At that rate, the season would likely remain open for at least a few days.
A total quota of 400 wolves was set by the DNR, out of a population estimated at 3,000. The early season was for hunters only and ran concurrent with firearms deer hunting; the later season allows both hunting and trapping.
Hunters last fall exceeded the DNR-set quota in the northeast region by one wolf, "and now this problem," Adkins Giese said, is part of a bigger pattern of mismanagement when it comes to the wolf.
"We were always worried the DNR wouldn't be able to keep an accurate count," said Dr. Maureen Hackett, founder of Howling for Wolves, the other group that argued to halt the hunt.
"The whole idea of killing the wolf to save the wolf has been a ludicrous position from the start," she said, adding that the DNR's quota numbers are arbitrary.
The two wildlife groups had argued that the DNR failed to follow its own rules in establishing the wolf season by not properly collecting public comments -- a charge the agency disputed. Tuesday's glitch could play a part in bolstering efforts to shut down the season.
But Niskanen is confident the wolf season will prove itself a success.
Minnesota, he said, has been in the vanguard of wolf research, and the wolves taken by hunters and trappers are themselves providing valuable data to ensure wolves' survival in the future.
Staff writer Dennis Anderson contributed to this story. Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039