Anderson: Limit on wolves poses challenge

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2012 - 7:08 AM

  Constant updates will be needed to ensure that hunters don't harvest more wolves than are targeted in each area.

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Of the 10 buddies Mike Lee hunts with, he and three others got wolf permits. They hunt just south of Duluth and saw wolves last year.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Perched in a deer stand near Northome, Minn., Saturday, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr will be armed with a rifle ... and a cell phone.

Not unusual, perhaps, for the agency's top guy. But in this case he'll be awaiting harvest updates on the state's first managed wolf hunt ever -- particularly those from the East-Central wolf hunting zone, where the DNR has set a harvest target of only nine animals.

According to a procedure that still was evolving Thursday afternoon, Landwehr could decide from his deer stand Saturday that wolf hunting in the East Central zone will close as early as Sunday night.

Triggering such a decision would be a harvest in that zone Saturday of perhaps as few as six wolves -- a number that would indicate to the DNR that the East Central harvest target (preferred by the DNR instead of "quota'') of nine likely will be reached by the end of hunting Sunday.

Guesswork might be required by Landwehr and others in the DNR in making a closure call because any season-ending notice the agency issues won't take effect for 24 hours.

The delay gives hunters reasonable opportunity to hear about the end of wolf season in their area.

Thus at least a two-day wolf hunt is guaranteed statewide, whatever harvest rate is achieved by hunters Saturday.

"We don't exactly know, we'll play it a little by ear,'' Landwehr said when asked what number of wolves in the East Central Zone would prompt a closure Saturday. "But probably between six and eight.''

The DNR statewide harvest target for the season running concurrent with deer hunting is 200, with another 200 allowed in a subsequent hunting and trapping season that begins Nov. 24.

Minnesota wolf hunters have until 10 p.m. the day of a kill to register their animals, either online, by phone or at a DNR big game registration station, the latter of which usually take the form of convenience or sporting-goods stores.

Harvest reports from the three sources will be aggregated in real time by the same contractor that runs the DNR's Electronic Licensing System (ELS). Simultaneously, tallies by zone will appear on a special DNR website found at www.startribune.com/a1848 (click on "wolf season status'' at page bottom).

DNR wolf specialist Dan Stark of Grand Rapids has said about 70 wolves might be taken during the deer season by the 3,600 hunters with wolf hunting permits. But Stark and others in the DNR are quick to add they are unsure how exactly the seasons will unfold.

Meanwhile, harvest targets for any zones that go unfilled in the first season will be added to the same zones for the second season.

So if only five wolves are killed in the East Central during the first season -- four short of the target of nine -- the second season's harvest target of nine wolves will be increased to 13.

44 wolves taken in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, where wolf hunting is in its third week, harvest reporting is being handled much differently. Hunters there must contact the DNR by phone within 24 hours of a kill, giving information to a live operator about the sex of the animal, method of take (gun or trap), county where the kill occurred, and time of kill.

Scheduled to run until the end of February, the Wisconsin hunt likely will close much sooner.

In one of its six wolf hunting zones -- Zone 4, where the quota is only five animals -- four wolves already have been killed.

"In this inaugural season, we weren't sure what to expect,'' said Wisconsin DNR lands division administrator Kurt Thiede. "But the rate of harvest is higher than we originally anticipated.''

In part, this is because wolf trapping, which is more effective than wolf hunting, is allowed throughout the Wisconsin season.

If achieved, Minnesota's total harvest target of 400 wolves would come from an estimated statewide population of about 3,000 animals, whereas Wisconsin's harvest target of 201 wolves would be from an estimated population of 850.

Eighty-five of the 201 wolves in the Wisconsin target have been reserved for Chippewa tribes (and possibly will go unfilled), leaving 116 for non-band members.

As of Wednesday, 44 wolves had been taken in Wisconsin, 27 by trap, the others by rifle.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

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