The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Tuesday threw out a challenge to Minnesota’s wolf hunting and trapping season, which could scuttle future efforts by activists who oppose the practice.
The ruling may be the end of an emotional battle by two hunt-opposing groups against the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which authorized a season with legislative approval after Minnesota’s gray wolf was removed from the federal Endangered Species Act last year. Hunters and trappers killed more than 400 wolves last year.
The court ruled that the groups — the Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves — had no legal standing to sue the DNR because they couldn’t show that the agency had caused injury. The judges noted that it was the Legislature, not the DNR, that established a season on wolves.
Activists are left with the lone option of petitioning the state Supreme Court to review their case. The groups have 30 days to make that request. Whether they will do so has yet to be decided.
“It’s a possibility,” said Collette L. Adkins Giese, a Minneapolis-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “I do see opportunities and believe that we have standing to bring the challenge, but there are certainly a lot of moving pieces that we’ll have to analyze.”
She declined to elaborate on what challenges, if any, the groups would make. She conceded that other than petitioning the Supreme Court, their only other option would be to get legislation passed that stops the season. That has been the main goal of Howling for Wolves, which is fighting to restore the state’s original five-year moratorium on wolf hunting after the animals’ removal from protected species lists. The Legislature removed that moratorium, authorizing the DNR to establish a season.
Asked about Tuesday’s ruling, Dr. Maureen Hackett, founder of Howling For Wolves, said, “It’s hard to put into words our disappointment and sense of injustice over this decision.”
Meanwhile, the DNR said it’s pleased with the decision. “We’ve been following the direction from the Legislature all along,’’ said Ed Boggess, director of fish and wildlife.
It was the second setback of its kind for the groups after the Appeals Court last October refused their request to stop the hunt while the cases proceeded. In that ruling, the court used the same rationale, that the Legislature, not the DNR, established the rules for the hunt, and that the groups failed to show harm caused by the DNR rules, rather than the Legislature’s authorization. The state Supreme Court refused to hear that case or grant an emergency injunction.
Boggess said that despite claims in the lawsuit, the DNR used the same rule-making process to set the wolf season as it does to set seasons for other species. “And the Legislature this session clarified that this is the correct process to use,’’ he said.
He reiterated that the DNR doesn’t believe that the season will hurt the state’s wolf population. “We are fully committed to the long-term sustainability of wolves in the state,’’ he said. “We manage the wolf season like we manage seasons for dozens of other game species.’’
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, which supported the wolf season, also was pleased with the court decision.
“The recovery of the gray wolf, in the Upper Great Lakes and nationally, should be something we all celebrate,’’ he said in a statement. “They have recovered. Now let’s trust our state wildlife professionals to manage wolves and quit wasting state and federal tax dollars and hunting license revenues in lawsuits.”
Minnesota resumed sport hunting and trapping after the region’s wolves came off the endangered species list early last year. Hunters and trappers then killed 413 wolves during the state’s first wolf season, which ended in January. The opposition launched a billboard and media campaign in the Twin Cities area and Duluth.
The DNR plans to make decisions about a 2013 hunt this summer after a population survey is completed.
Legislation seeking to impose a five-year moratorium on wolf hunts stalled during the just-completed session. Meanwhile, a federal suit by four wildlife advocacy groups challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to remove wolves from the federal endangered species list has yet to be heard.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.