Trappers look forward to fall timber wolf season

Tim Ewert, Dennis Perish
Tim Ewert of Bemidji, Minn., left, and Dennis Parish of Solway, Minn., inspect snares they'll use for trapping wolves, if lawmakers approve a wolf hunting and trapping season. Ewert and Parish, who participate in Voyageur historic reenactment groups, are dressed in traditional Voyageur garb outside Ewert's home.
Jon Heller for MPR

In some ways, 61-year-old Tim Ewert was born a few hundred years too late.

Fascinated by stories of French voyageurs and trappers who first came to Minnesota in the late 1600s, Ewert is a professional trapper who also sells mink oil, hand-crafted baskets and wooden bows. He even makes voyageur-style canoes and participates in historic reenactments.

Ewert, of rural Bemidji, has trapped most of his life and pursues all sorts of animals. He's among those who are eager for the chance to hunt wolves and thinks experienced trappers would have the best chance of success.

"You have to know the every day, day-to-day, hour-to-hour habits of that animal to catch them," Ewert said.

The state Department of Natural Resources has proposed letting hunters and trappers kill 400 wolves this fall. State lawmakers must approve the plan, which is vigorously opposed by some Ojibwe Indians.

Tim Ewert
Tim Ewert demonstrates how snares, once engaged, won't loosen up on their own. Ewert, of Bemidji, plans to use a snare to snag a timber wolf, if a season is approved and he's lucky enough to get a license through the lottery system.
Jon Heller for MPR

Some traditional Ojibwe in Minnesota want to see the state's wolves remain protected. Among them is Andy Favorite of White Earth, who said wolves are sacred.

"In our creation stories and a lot of other legends, the wolf is very prominent," Favorite said. "So it's a very spiritual thing."

Hunters and trappers in northern Minnesota have a different perspective.

Ewert said if a wolf season opens this fall -- and he's lucky enough to get drawn in a lottery for a license -- he'd use a wire cable snare to catch a wolf.

"When he's caught in there, this will start to close," Ewert said as he showed how the snare trap works. "So if he pulls harder this gets tighter."

Ewert knows that many people won't agree with him. But for him, killing a wolf would be the thrill of a lifetime. He figures a good quality wolf pelt could fetch between $500 and $800. But Ewert said if he got one he would keep it and perhaps mount it on the wall.

Wolf in woods
A wolf walks in the woods near the Echo Trail about 20 miles northwest of Ely, Minn. The DNR is proposing a wolf hunting and trapping season this fall, which is currently being debated in the Legislature.
Steve Foss for MPR

"I might actually make a hat and maybe a pair of boots out of them," he said. "And I think I'm actually honoring that wolf by doing that."

Ewert remembers his uncle and grandfather trapping wolves in the early 1960s, when state officials paid a bounty for the animals -- $35 for adults and $25 for pups.

Then wolf numbers dramatically declined to just a few hundred. They were put on the federal endangered species list in 1974. Since then, the animals have rebounded. They were removed from federal protection last year, and in Minnesota there are now about 3,000 wolves.

The DNR proposes a wolf season this fall that would allow 6,000 people to win a hunting or trapping license through a lottery. The plan would cap the number of wolves that could be killed at 400.

Ewert doubts the state will reach that goal very easily because wolves are smart and can't be hunted the same way people hunt deer.

"I respect the timber wolf very much. They're very beautiful... But we also know they were put there for our use, too."

"It's going to be tough," he said. "You very seldom see them and you know they're here."

It's unclear how much interest there will be in hunting and trapping wolves. DNR officials say they see this first year as a pilot season. They say the 400-wolf limit is conservative.

Dan Stark, a large carnivore specialist for the DNR, points to studies that show wolves can sustain up to about a 30 percent mortality rate from hunting and trapping. He said the DNR's initial wolf limit is less than half of that.

"They're pretty resilient," said Stark. "They have high reproductive rates."

DNR Fish and Wildlife Deputy Director Kathy DonCarlos said the agency has heard from many hunters and trappers asking for a higher wolf limit this season.

But DonCarlos said returning to a wolf hunting season requires careful planning. That includes figuring out the most effective way of notifying hunters and trappers -- either through e-mail, media or other methods -- when the season is shut down because limits have been reached.

"We're acknowledging that we need to learn as we go," DonCarlos said. "We want the initial season to be one where we start evaluating interest and success rates. The first year may not look the same as future years."

Beaver pelt
Bemidji trapper Tim Ewert inspects a beaver pelt outside his home. Ewert is fascinated by stories of the French voyageurs and trappers who first came to Minnesota in the late 1600s.
Jon Heller for MPR

For trapper Dennis Parish, there's good reason to thin out the numbers of wolves in the state. Parish lives near farm country west of Bemidji, and his neighbors complain that wolves are preying on their livestock. Statewide last year, the state verified more than 100 cases of wolf depredation on livestock, poultry and domestic dogs.

Parish also believes there are areas of northern Minnesota where wolves have scared away the deer population.

"If you don't take the responsibility now of controlling the different packs and the amount that they have, we won't any longer have deer," he said. "We'll have way too many timber wolves and they'll either move on to other states, or they'll die of starvation."

Parish is excited about the possibility of trapping a wolf. He figures he could go anywhere within a 30-mile radius of his home and successfully trap one. He says a wolf season will help maintain a balance of animal species.

"Early on in my life I realized that there's a cycle that you have in life, and animals are there for that cycle," Parish said. "I respect the timber wolf very much. It's an icon for this area. They're very beautiful... But we also know they were put there for our use, too."

There are several bills moving through the Minnesota House and Senate to allow a hunting season for wolves. DNR officials will work out many of the details this summer.

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