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Two Minnesota wolf hunts planned

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Minnesota will see two wolf seasons this fall, not just one.

In its first hunt since assuming wolf management from the federal government, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has proposed an early wolf hunting season that would coincide with the state's firearms deer season, opening Nov. 3. A late wolf hunting and trapping season would open Nov. 24. It would close Jan. 6, 2013, or whenever a total harvest of 400 wolves in both seasons combined is reached, if that comes sooner.

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The first season would be open only in the areas of the state open to rifle deer hunting, which are the northern and central zones. The late season will be open statewide.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a law in its 2012 session requiring that a wolf season begin concurrently with the firearms deer season, but legislators gave the DNR authority to structure the season.

"The first season was at the direction of the Legislature and the governor," said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations program manager for the DNR. "That one is a given for us. We said all along that we'd like to provide a hunting and trapping season for people who want to take wolves in that dedicated season (after deer hunting)."

Preparations for the state's first formal wolf season have proceeded with little public opposition, although some residents testified against such a season before the Legislature. In contrast, removing the wolf from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act was fraught with controversy. So-called delisting was first proposed for wolves in the western Great Lakes region in 1998 but has been in and out of court ever since.

So far, no groups have offered a legal challenge to Minnesota's proposed wolf season.

"In the past we have challenged delisting of wolves, but we have no plans to do that this time. In the same vein, we have no plans to challenge the hunting season," said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The DNR is seeking public comments on details of this fall's proposed seasons. The complete proposal is available on the DNR website, where comments are being taken through an online survey.

A total of 6,000 licenses would be offered, with 3,600 available in the early season and 2,400 in the late season. Late-season licenses will be further split between hunting and trapping, with a minimum of 600 reserved for trappers. The target harvest quota will be 400 wolves for both seasons combined, and will initially be allocated equally between the early and the late seasons.

Wolf hunting licenses will be $30 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. Nonresidents will be limited to 5 percent of total hunting licenses. Wolf trapping licenses will be $30 (limited to residents only). A lottery will be held to select license recipients. Proof of a current or previous hunting license will be required to apply for a wolf license. The lottery application fee will be $4.

The early hunting-only season will be open only in the northern portions of Minnesota. It will start on Nov. 3, the opening day of firearms deer hunting. It will close either at the end of the respective firearms seasons in the two northern deer zones (Nov. 18 in Zone 1 or Nov. 11 in Zone 2), or when a registered target harvest quota of 200 is reached, whichever comes sooner.

If fewer than 200 wolves are taken during the early season, the remaining portion of the quota will be added to the quota for the later season, said the DNR's Merchant.

"The DNR is taking a very conservative approach to this first season," Merchant said. "It's designed to help us learn about hunter and trapper interest and what kind of hunter and trapper success we'll have."

The proposed season is consistent with the goal of the state's wolf management plan to assure the long term survival of the wolf and address conflicts between wolves and humans, he said.

Merchant said wildlife experts took into account the number of wolves killed in damage-control efforts when setting the harvest number. Typically, about 80 farms have verified wolf depredation complaints each year, according to the DNR. Over the past several years, an average of 170 wolves have been captured or killed each year by federal trappers in response to verified livestock depredation. About 70 wolves have been trapped and killed so far this spring following verified livestock damage complaints, primarily on calves.

No American Indian bands or tribes in Minnesota have announced wolf hunting seasons. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa will not hold a season, said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist at the Fond du Lac band.

"A lot of band members feel a strong spiritual and/or cultural connection to wolves," Schrage said. "Part of that spiritual and cultural connection is that wolves are part of the Ojibwe creation story."

The 1854 Treaty Authority, representing the Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands, also will not hold a wolf season this fall, said Sonny Myers, executive director of the authority.

Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the International Wolf Center, expressed concern that the DNR's public comment period is being offered only online. But she is pleased with details of the season.

"I think it's a good, cautious approach. I hope it coincides with some good research and social science," Gibson said. "This is new for Minnesotans. ... I hope we get some questions answered in this first season."

Wolves were returned to state management in January when they were removed from the federal Endangered Species list. Before their protection under federal law in 1974, wolves were unprotected under state law and the DNR had no wolf management authority. This proposal marks the first regulated harvest season for wolves in state history.

The state has an estimated 3,000 wolves, according to the DNR. Wolf numbers and their distribution have remained relatively stable for the past 10 years and have been well above the federal wolf recovery population goal since the 1990s.

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