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Wolf hunt caught in Minnesota legislature

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Wolf in woods
A wolf walks in the woods near the Echo Trail about 20 miles northwest of Ely, Minn.
Steve Foss for MPR

Minnesota's planned wolf hunt may not happen this year.

A spat between two influential state senators has put on hold a bill that would allow the hunt, proposed after the federal government removed the wolf from the list of endangered species in January.

State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandra, included some details of a hunt — such as types of guns and snares that would be allowed, and dates for the season — in an omnibus game and fish bill. 

The groundwork for the legislation was laid last year, when during a special session the Legislature removed a five-year waiting period from Minnesota's plan to manage the animal. That allowed the state Department of Natural Resources to define a hunting season, after taking public comment.

But in a move that had nothing to do with wolves, but everything to do with politics, Ingebrigtsen put that bill on hold Tuesday. He acted after Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, objected to a provision that eliminated Minnesota's conservation fishing license.

Ingebrigtsen charges Bakk with engineering opposition to the bill strictly for political reasons. That spat could mean no bill, and no wolf hunt. Ingebretson said if there's no wolf hunt this fall, it could be a big problem for farmers worried that wolves will prey on their livestock.

"The depredation problem with the high number of wolves in the state of Minnesota is a big issue. People understand that," he said. "The whitetail hunting enthusiasts, 500,000 strong, want it. I think it's going to be a huge problem."

Bill Ingebrigtsen
State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandra, put on hold a bill that would allow wolf hunting after opposition to a provision in the bill that eliminated Minnesota's conservation fishing license.
MPR Photo/Julie Siple

For his part, Bakk denies his objection to the measure was politically motivated. He said the DNR can organize a wolf hunt on its own without the provisions in the bill.    

"They can start wolf management without the bill; they just can't charge for it," Bakk said. "And they need the money to help pay for wolf management and depredation."

While the wolf was under federal protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid for professional trappers to kill wolves that attack farm animals and pets. Now that responsibility falls to the Minnesota — and the state has very little money for it.

"A hunting season on wolves isn't going to address the wolf conflicts that we have experienced and we will experience," said Joe Martin, executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association. "That's why we still need to continue the services of professional trappers to remove wolves."

Still, some advocates of a wolf hunt say it will help limit the number of wolves that kill farm animals.

Tom Bakk
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, objected to a provision that eliminated Minnesota's conservation fishing license, but denies political motivation in his objection.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

DNR officials have not taken a position on whether hunters can curb predatory wolves. The agency's legislative liaison, Bob Meier, said there are lots of public perceptions and misperceptions that need to be addressed before launching into a season.  He said putting the details into law is an important part of the process.

"Our plan is to go out and have public meetings and establish our framework around some of those conversations as required by the wolf management plan that was developed that we're still following to date," Meier said. "But first and foremost we want to work with the legislature and the governor to get a bill that will be signed into law that will do this the right way."

Agency officials are reluctant to organize a hunt without legislative endorsement.  Meier predicts the bill could be back on track in a few days.

 If the bill doesn't pass, it's anybody's guess whether Minnesota will hold a wolf hunting season this year or anytime soon.