With hunting season fast approaching, Minnesota citizens filed into a UMD auditorium Friday to discuss the ethics of harvesting wolves.
“What’s the rush?” a Duluth woman asked, echoing the critics of the wolf hunt who are concerned that the DNR-approved policy was passed too soon, and without public support.
The policy legalizes the shooting and trapping of 400 wolves that, until January of 2012, were listed as an endangered and protected species.
“Ethically, we feel the DNR and the legislators broke the public trust and their promise,” said Maureen Hackett, founder of the anti-wolf hunt organization Howling for Wolves. “As early as 2011, there were letters sent saying ‘no wolf hunt.’”
Hackett referred to the once-anticipated moratorium, which would have prohibited wolf hunting for five years after they were removed from the protected list.
“In our generation, there is no legitimate reason to conduct hunts,” said Howard Goldman, panelist and director of the Minnesota Humane Society. “This is sport hunting, leisure, trophy hunting—nothing more.” In response, Mark Johnson, director of the Minnesota Deer Hunter Association, defended the hunt as a sustainable harvest, and noted the various properties of the wolf a hunter may utilize.
He added that an effect of the wolf hunt could be to manage the wolf population and promote a more viable human-wolf relationship.
But according to the DNR response to the 2012 petition to stop the wolf hunt, wolf populations and depredatory incidents have stabilized over the past 10 years, and the wolf hunt is not to control populations.
Instead, the response stated that “the season is based on the fact that wolf populations, like other game species, will support a sustainable, regulated harvest.”
L. David Mech, a biologist and senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said the harvest of the 400 wolves this season would have little effect on the population, and the DNR reports that research suggests that wolf harvesting of up to 30 percent of the population is sustainable.
Yet the panel’s presentation of information concerning wolf population trends and DNR research was questionable, and even unpredictable.
“I cannot … figure out why the wolf population of Minnesota isn’t rising,” said Mech. “It should be.”
Mech noted there hasn’t been an actual wolf population count since 2007. Instead, the DNR and other groups used indices, which report wolf tracking along survey routes, to estimate the current wolf population at 3,000.
According to Mech, wolves may double their population every year, but many of them die out in the winter due to predation between packs, illegal shooting and other causes—all of which are uncertain estimates, if estimated at all.
Further illustrating the uncertainty of Minnesota wolf populations, Goldman said the Minnesota Humane Society has sued twice, once in 2007 and again in 2009, to restore wolves to the protected species list.
“We need better data and more current surveys,” Goldman said. “There is too much in effect to do anything else.”
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