Almanac: Is wolf season too conservative?

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2012 - 8:43 PM
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A clash appears to be brewing between legislators and the Department of Natural Resources over details of a wolf hunting season next fall.

At Capitol hearings last week, some legislators questioned whether the DNR's proposed first-ever wolf season is too conservative. And they raised doubts whether they will accept the agency's intention of starting the wolf season at the end of November -- after the regular firearms deer season.

"I'd like to see the deer hunters have a better opportunity [at a wolf],'' said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Baxter, also said he was hoping to see a wolf season run concurrent with the deer season.

"I think you'd have a lot more people interested,'' he told DNR officials.

At a House hearing, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said: "I think there will be a great backlash to starting it [the wolf season] later. There's a pent-up demand.''

DNR officials told legislators that they deliberately are taking a conservative approach to a wolf season to gauge hunter and trapper interest and success rates. They proposed a quota of 400 wolves, with 6,000 hunting and trapping licenses issued through a lottery. Hunters or trappers could take one wolf with a license. The DNR says the taking of 400 wolves by hunters and trappers wouldn't reduce the wolf population, because other animals would replace those killed. (For details on the DNR's proposal, see www.startribune.com/outdoors.)

Fear of lawsuit

Officials said they don't want to do anything that would jeopardize state control and lead to the wolf being placed back on the protected list under the Endangered Species Act. After years of lawsuits, the iconic animal officially went off the list and under state control on Friday.

"We need to take our time and do it right,'' Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife division director, told legislators. "We know there's pent-up enthusiasm for a wolf season.''

Still, several legislators suggested the proposed 400-wolf quota might be too low.

At the House hearing, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, asked wolf expert David Mech whether it made sense to allow deer hunters more opportunities to shoot wolves.

"The larger number of wolves taken during the first season, the greater the chances of a lawsuit,'' Mech said. "That could stall the whole DNR wolf management [plan] for years.'' (See a video of Mech testifying at www.startribune.com/a988.)

Representatives of hunting, trapping, farm and cattle groups told legislators they support the wolf season. "We're pretty excited about it,'' said Shawn Johnson of Duluth, president of the Minnesota Trappers Association.

But not everyone is.

The Humane Society of the United States was among a coalition of environmental and animal-rights groups that has filed lawsuits to keep the wolf on the endangered species list.

Howard Goldman, state director, told legislators his group opposed delisting the wolf and opposed a hunting season.

"We've made no decision yet whether to litigate,'' he said. "We are very pleased to see the department has taken a conservative approach to a wolf hunting season.''

Lake of the Woods bust

When the walleye bite is hot, some anglers just can't stop, even when it means keeping an over-limit of fish.

Conservation officers see it all the time.

But the number of violations encountered by a team of conservation officers on Lake of the Woods last weekend surprised even them. Extra officers were on the ice Friday through Sunday -- including eight on Saturday -- in the intensive enforcement effort occasionally used by the Department of Natural Resources.

Officers issued 67 citations, 66 warnings and found 23 anglers with over-limits, 14 with extra lines, 12 with no fishing licenses and five with fish of illegal length. A total of 234 walleyes or saugers were seized.

"We were shocked that we had that many over-limits,'' said Lt. Pat Znajda, a district enforcement supervisor. "It's troubling. All the law-abiding anglers should be upset."

Boat Show attendance

The 40th annual Minneapolis Boat Show attracted 34,555 people over its four-day run earlier this month, an increase of 11 percent over 2011. Show manager Jennifer Thompson said several exhibitors reported it's the best show they've had in years.

Did you know?

• Under the DNR's proposal, a wolf hunting or trapping license would cost $50. "Personally, I think that's too high,'' Ken Wainionpa, president of the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers, told legislators.

• Two wolves were accidentally caught in traps in the Bemidji area, and they were turned over to the DNR. One died in the trap, and the other couldn't be released so it was dispatched.

• Conservation officer Darin Fagerman of Grand Marais encountered a man with a camera standing outside his car on a slippery road corner. The man told Fagerman he was just taking pictures of the owls on the poles. That's when Fagerman told him the owls were plastic, placed there to keep woodpeckers off the poles.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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