By Danielle Killey
Advocates could not prevent Minnesota’s first wolf hunting season, but they now are asking state lawmakers to put a stop to the hunt for at least five years.
“My concern is for the survival of the wolf,” bill sponsor Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said. “I believe that when you put these kind of resources into protecting a species, it doesn’t make sense to automatically start a recreational hunt once they are delisted.”
Her bill, which a Senate committee approved Thursday, would set a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting in the state.
After the five years, hunting only could be reinstated if it is necessary to control the wolf population.
Bill opponents argued that is needed now.
“The wolf is a beautiful animal when he’s where he belongs,” said John Gilbertson, who lives on a farm north of Bemidji. But he said the animal is a threat to livestock and has become an increasing problem.
“It is about the management of the wolves,” St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman told lawmakers in a packed committee room.
Lawmakers in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee voted 7-6 Thursday to move the moratorium proposal forward.
Rural lawmakers from both parties voted against the bill. The moratorium could continue to face challenges this year from rural legislators.
The state’s original wolf management plan included a five-year moratorium on hunting after the animal is taken off the federal endangered species list. It officially was removed from the list in the Great Lakes area in January 2012.
“Never before has an animal been taken off the endangered species list and hunted immediately,” Howling for Wolves founder Maureen Hackett said. “We need these five years. We were promised it.”
The wolf originally was delisted in 2007, but that was overturned after challenges in federal court, the Department of Natural Resources said. The same happened in 2009.
Howard Goldman of the Humane Society said wolves killing or threatening livestock can be handled by the DNR or other agencies.
“The state of Minnesota rushed to establish a hunt,” Goldman said.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said the issue had years of study and discussion since the first delisting in 2007, five years before the hunt began.
“Hunters are not anti-wolf,” Minnesota Deer Hunters Association treasurer Wayne Johnson said. “We are pro-wolf management.”
A total of 413 wolves were killed in the hunting and trapping season, which ended in January.
Eaton said it “just makes common sense” to get a more accurate count of the wolf population in Minnesota before allowing more hunting, to make sure it is stable and to protect an animal the state and federal governments have worked to shield in the past.