Minnesota's first managed wolf hunting and trapping season, set for this fall, will be more than just controversial.
It also will be a cultural clash.
American Indian bands around the state oppose the hunting and trapping of wolves on spiritual grounds, will prohibit wolf hunting on tribal lands and complain that the DNR and Legislature haven't considered their views.
"The wolf is part of our creation story, and therefore many Ojibwe have a strong spiritual connection to the wolf,'' Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, wrote in a letter to the DNR this spring. "Many Ojibwe believe the fate of the wolf is closely tied to the fate of all the Ojibwe. For these reasons the Fond du Lac Band feels the hunting and trapping of wolves is inappropriate.''
Leaders of the Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth bands wrote similar letters of concern to the DNR when the Legislature was still debating a wolf hunting season. Red Lake -- the only closed reservation in the state -- will close its 900,000-acre reservation to wolf hunting.
The views of wolves couldn't be more different.
European settlers and their descendants sought to exterminate wolves, and today, with their population healthy in Minnesota, plans for a limited trapping and hunting season have the support of many Minnesotans. But wolves are revered in American Indian culture.
"We understand wolves to be educators, teaching us about hunting and working together in extended family units,'' James Zorn, executive administrator for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, said in a letter to the Wisconsin Legislature. That legislature, like Minnesota's, OK'd a wolf hunting season. The commission, which represents 11 Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, opposes public wolf seasons in all three states. "Wolves exemplify perseverance, guardianship, intelligence and wisdom,'' Zorn said.
The Fond du Lac Band near Duluth won't allow wolf hunting and trapping by band members on the approximately 35,000 acres of tribal lands and asked the DNR to close the other 65,000 acres within the reservation, including private, county and state lands, to wolf hunting and trapping. The White Earth Band also asked the DNR to ban wolf hunting within reservation boundaries.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr declined both requests.
"We fully recognize and respect your authority to close tribal lands to the taking of wolves, but we believe that the public should be given the opportunity to hunt on the public and private nontribal lands within the reservation boundary,'' Landwehr wrote both bands.
The Leech Lake Band wanted the DNR to make the reservation a separate wolf management zone, but the DNR currently includes it and the much of the rest of northeastern Minnesota in a large wolf management area. Steve Mortensen of the band's Division of Resource Management said the band is concerned too many wolves will be killed in that area.
"There is considerable concern about taking wolves for sport,'' he wrote to Landwehr. "Many tribal members feel that wolves are their brothers and they should be respected as such.''
Mortensen noted that once the wolf was removed from the Endangered Species Act protection, its management returned to the state and tribes. But he said the state hasn't discussed its wolf management plan with bands.
"How can you ignore governments that have co-management authority of much of the wolf range and come up with a plan without their input?'' he asked.
Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife division director, said the agency has tried to be inclusive and has had discussions with bands about its wolf management plans. He said that the delisting returned whatever authority the bands and state originally had but that it didn't convey new co-management authority to the bands.
Boggess acknowledged that the bands have a different cultural view of wolves.
"We recognize and respect those cultural views, but when it comes to managing wildlife, under these treaties and rights that were conveyed, all we can deal with are issues of conservation, public safety and public health,'' Boggess said. "Cultural issues are for each culture to address as they see fit.''