Two wildlife groups have asked a court to stop Minnesota's upcoming wolf 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 first managed wolf season.
The Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., a national group that fought successfully for years to prevent "delisting'' of wolves as an endangered species, and a local group called Howling for Wolves, which has launched a media and billboard campaign, asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to block the hunt, which is to begin Nov. 3.
State officials declined to comment on the action. But in a statement, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said: "The DNR recognizes there is a wide range of opinions toward wolf hunting and trapping, but all Minnesotans should know the DNR's primary wolf management goal is to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf. The DNR's conservative approach to this first season is based on sound conservation science and principles."
The hunt was approved by the Legislature earlier this year after removal of the Great Lakes gray wolf from the federal endangered species list in 2011.
The DNR plan calls for a quota of 400 animals between Nov. 3, when the deer hunting season starts, and Jan. 31. About 23,000 people from across the country applied for licenses, which will be handed out to 6,000 hunters via 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. At the time, state officials said the survey and the legislative process provided adequate opportunity for public input.
But the survey showed that many people objected to the hunt. Of 7,351 responses, 5,809 people opposed it.
"The state rushed to issue wolf hunting and trapping rules without giving people a real chance to voice their opinions," said Collette Adkins Giese, a Minneapolis attorney with the center in Tuscon. "Especially considering the tremendous controversy around hunting and trapping of Minnesota's wolves, state officials should have followed the law carefully.''
Giese said the center put out an action alert to its members, including about 5,000 in Minnesota, asking them to respond to the DNR's survey, and many did.
Others also questioned the DNR's decision not to hold public hearings about the management of an animal that has always sparked controversy and emotion.
"I think the public process is so important on any controversial issue, and this would be included," said Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely.
But Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said the public had plenty of opportunity for input. "They had a public process within the Legislature, and a public process with the DNR," he said.
The groups' petition also said the state violated its 2001 wolf management plan, which called for a five-year moratorium on hunting after the wolf was delisted by federal authorities. State wildlife officials said the delisting process took so long that the five-year moratorium was unnecessary.
The wolf population, about 3,000 in Minnesota, is healthy enough to withstand the loss of up to 400 animals, state officials said.
The Minnesota petition is among several legal challenges on wolf management pending in other states. The Center for Biological Diversity has notified the federal government that it intends to file suit to stop a Wyoming wolf hunt, which would reduce the population outside Yellowstone National Park to 100. It also has succeeded in winning an injunction in Oregon to stop the killing of wolves.
It was also part of a coalition of conservation groups that successfully sued to put the wolf back on the endangered species list in 2008 after the federal government failed to provide a process for public comment on the delisting.
Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394