Minnesota’s second regulated wolf hunting season opens Saturday with one certainty: Fewer wolves will be killed than in last year’s inaugural hunt.
That’s because the Department of Natural Resources lowered its wolf harvest target to 220 this year, about half what it was last year. And the agency is issuing 3,300 licenses, about half as many as in 2012.
The wolf kill reduction was made after a survey last winter estimated the state’s wolf population at 2,211 — a 24 percent decline from 2008, but a figure that didn’t include this year’s surviving pups.
Last year hunters and trappers slightly exceeded the 400-wolf harvest quota, forcing officials to close the season early. Though the wolf population was down, the 220-wolf quota — split almost evenly between an early and late season — should be attainable.
“I think we’ll reach that,’’ said Dan Stark, a DNR wolf specialist.
State officials repeatedly have said the limited wolf harvest won’t hurt the health of the overall wolf population — a point disputed by opponents of the wolf season.
Though the state’s wolf population survey, conducted last winter, is done once every five years, the DNR plans to estimate the population this winter using radio-collared wolves to determine the size of packs and pack territory.
This year’s wolf season structure is similar to last year. A first hunting season begins Saturday and runs concurrent with the firearms deer season, but will close if the harvest targets are reached. Those quotas include 32 wolves in the northeast zone and 73 in the northwest zone. Hunting only will be allowed Saturday and Sunday in the east-central zone in the early season, where the total harvest quota for both seasons is 10 wolves.
About 2,000 licenses were available for the early season, and Stark said about 420 unsold licenses will go on sale Wednesday.
A late wolf season, which includes trapping, runs Nov. 30 to Jan. 31, but again will close sooner if the harvest targets — about the same as those in the early season — are reached. Hunters and trappers must check the DNR’s website or call a toll-free line daily to see if the seasons have been closed.
Meanwhile, interest by hunters and trappers in the wolf season remains strong: The DNR received nearly 13,000 applications, including 191 from other states, for the 3,300 licenses.