by Jacob Edson, F&W Outdoors editor
Following last month’s announcement that gray wolves will return to state management in the northern Great Lakes on Jan. 27, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today that a limited gray wolf hunting and trapping season is being planned for late 2012.
This is a hot-button topic for hunters, wildlife enthusiasts and wildlife managers alike. However, it appears Minnesota (the first of the three Great Lakes states to make a move) is taking a very wise approach to wolf management.
According to the release:
Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said the agency is taking a “deliberate and science-based” approach to implementing initial wolf hunting and trapping seasons.
“Our job, as a natural resource agency, is to implement the state’s Wolf Management Plan, which includes provisions for public taking of wolves,” said Landwehr. “That means we will be taking actions to ensure the long-term survival of the species while also addressing conflicts between wolves and humans.”
In the weeks ahead, DNR biologists will begin to identify wolf management harvest units and develop other criteria specific to a Minnesota season. Components of the proposed season framework must still be approved by the Legislature, and a chance for public comment will be provided later this year.
“Without a history of regulated wolf seasons, we don’t know what kind of hunter and trapper interest and success rate to expect,” said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist. For these reasons, he said, it is necessary to be conservative during initial seasons.
Stark said the DNR proposal would manage wolves as a prized and high-value fur species by setting the season when pelts are prime, limiting the take through a lottery and requiring animals be registered.
This approach, he said, is different than simply allowing hunters to shoot a wolf as an “incidental take” while primarily pursuing another species such as deer.
“Minnesota is different than other areas where wolf hunting is offered, in part, because we have much higher hunter densities and a more compressed big-game hunting season,” Stark said.
“Our proposal is a separate season that takes into account when pelts are prime and have their highest value,” Stark said. “This approach will provide hunters and trappers the opportunity to specifically target wolves while minimizing conflicts with other hunting seasons.”
I for one am all for a wolf hunting and trapping season (my bet is that public trapping becomes Minnesota’s main wolf management technique, and wolf hunting will experience modest participation and low success after the first couple of years). However, I think it’s also important for hunters to view wolves as a wild resource and valuable member of the ecological landscape … not just a verminous competitor for the deer resource. A season structure such as this will facilitate that mindset as well as allow a scientific and adaptable management plan.