Evidence of how glacially the wheels of government grind forward was made plain in recent days with the release of the Department of Natural Resources' most recent wolf management plan.
Begun in 2019 and intended to update the state's 2001 wolf plan, the most recent missive was eagerly awaited by a varied crowd of stakeholders, not least those most affected by Minnesota's growing gray wolf population, now estimated to number about 2,700.
Professional in tone and substance, the new plan accomplishes at least one of its goals: to document the sociology that surrounds management of Minnesota gray wolves.
Nearly everyone, it seems, has an opinion about wolves and how they should be managed, with the most vocal and politically strident among these contingents advising, and in some cases demanding, that wolves be neither hunted nor trapped.
The Center for Biological Diversity, headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., is at the head of this list.
But there are others, and the DNR's latest wolf plan acknowledges as much, saying, essentially, that as Minnesota becomes more urbanized and increasing numbers of people get their notions about wild critters from television and the internet, the Disneyesque practice of anthropomorphizing wildlife will become more widespread.
Word had leaked from the DNR a year or more ago that whatever the new wolf plan would say, it wouldn't be definitive on whether hunting and trapping should again be allowed in Minnesota.
Prompted by wolves' delisting from the Endangered Species Act, regulated seasons allowing hunting and trapping of wolves in Minnesota were held most recently in 2012-2014. The state's wolf population before and after the seasons was essentially unchanged, if not a little larger within a year or two afterward.
Maintaining the stability of wildlife populations while allowing a regulated take is the backbone of modern wildlife management, whose principles could again be applied to Minnesota wolves, probably in perpetuity, with no long-term population harm.
Whether this happens when the gray wolf is again delisted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — which is likely within a year — depends on a number of factors, not least the professional fortitude of whoever is running the DNR at the time.
In part this is because in Minnesota the DNR commissioner works for the governor, and Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan have said — until qualifying their reservations this week (more on this below) — that they oppose wolf hunting and trapping.
But perhaps a year from now Walz and Flanagan won't be in office, and the DNR commissioner who is now Sarah Strommen could be someone else under a new administration. If so, perhaps the new governor and/or a new commissioner will make his or her wolf hunting and trapping decisions based not on political whims but on what is best for Minnesota as a whole, and for wolves and other wildlife specifically, including deer but especially moose.
Wolves, after all, do eat things, including quite a few beavers in summer and a fair number of deer (up to about 20 per wolf per year) and moose in winter.
Such predator-prey relationships ultimately are good and normal in healthy northern Minnesota boreal forests. But matters go off the tracks when certain predators, in this case wolves, disproportionately impact certain species, including humans.
These include northern Minnesota deer hunters and deer camp owners, whose sport, long-held family traditions and property values have been and continue to be adversely impacted by a wolf population that 50 years ago was a fraction of its current size.
True, with time, everything changes, including long-held family traditions. And the effect of periodic severe winters on deer populations, as well as moose populations, must be considered.
But 36% of Minnesota firearms deer hunters last year hunted in Series 100 Deer Permit Areas — broadly speaking, northern Minnesota — and 28% of the state's firearms deer harvest occurred in that area. Notwithstanding the politics that envelop wolf hunting and trapping, if for no other reason than to keep the DNR solvent, its managers should worry that northern Minnesota deer hunting traditions are falling by the wayside, almost in real time.
Moose survival is also at stake in the face of significant wolf depredation, especially in the northeast's core moose range.
"Among the collared cow moose in our study group this spring, 100 percent of calves suffered mortality," said Seth Moore, director of biology and environment for the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. "About half were killed by wolves and about half by bears. Because of the tough winter, we also had some stillborn calves."
The DNR knows its moose management plan is outdated, and the sooner it's revised, the better, because for moose to survive long-term, intensive management not only of wolves in the area, but bears, deer and habitat are needed.
Moore stressed he was speaking for himself because the Grand Portage tribal council hasn't codified its positions on wolf management.
"As a wildlife biologist, I think if we reduced wolf numbers in the core moose range by about 25%, and reduced bear and deer numbers, while increasing habitat, we could see significant positive changes for moose," he said.
All of which are possible, as are northern Minnesota land and wildlife management ideas and plans that DNR professional staff have.
But nothing can move forward while everything stands still, frozen by extremists' demands and politics.
Which brings us back to Walz and Flanagan.
Last week, Strommen told me I should check with the governor's office because she understood that Walz and Flanagan's views on wolf hunting and trapping had become "more nuanced" after reading the new wolf plan.
So I sent this question to the governor's communications director: "Have the positions on wolf hunting and trapping of the Governor and Lt. Governor changed and/or what are their current positions?"
This response came from Walz spokeswoman Claire Lancaster:
"Because federal protections are in place, the state does not have the authority to decide one way or another whether there will be a hunting or trapping season. However, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor support the DNR's thoughtful, comprehensive approach to wolf management, including the framework for determining if and when hunting might be an appropriate management tool."
What that means exactly, I'm uncertain. But it's movement.