Minn. DNR sued over wolf hunt

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

Two groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday to try to block the opening of Minnesota's inaugural wolf hunting and trapping seasons this fall, saying the Department of Natural Resources failed to provide a proper opportunity for public comment on its recently issued rules for the seasons.

Wolves came off the endangered list in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in January, and the Minnesota Legislature authorized the resumption of sport hunting and trapping last session. The Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves argue that the 30-day online survey by DNR this summer did not give the public a fair chance to try to shape the regulations.

So the groups asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals for a preliminary injunction to block the hunt, which is due to open Nov. 3 along with the state's firearms deer season, until the court can formally rule. The DNR plans to issue 6,000 licenses for wolf hunting and trapping and to close the seasons once the harvest quota of 400 wolves is reached.

DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said the agency hadn't had time to review the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

The DNR will get a chance to file a response before the court decides on the injunction. The court didn't immediately set a schedule for the case.

Howling for Wolves has been waging a billboard and online campaign against the hunt this summer. The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental and animal welfare groups tried and failed to keep the region's wolves on the endangered list.

The two groups say the planned killing of up to 400 wolves would deprive them of opportunities to see wolves in the wild or hear their howls. They say it would disrupt the ecosystem by removing predators that play an important role in Minnesota's wild areas. And they say their members are distressed by the thought that wolves could die or be injured from being hunted and trapped, and at the prospect that they might actually see dead or suffering wolves, including wolves caught in traps.

The petition says the DNR unnecessarily rushed the process and wasn't legally obligated to exercise the authority the Legislature gave it to open the wolf seasons this year. The groups say the DNR could have waited until fall 2013 or later to allow more time for a public notice and comment period.

"There's nothing in the Minnesota law that says an online survey can substitute for formal notice and comment on rulemaking by the agency," said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney for the center.

Adkins Giese said her group has members who live in remote parts of northern Minnesota's wolf country who don't have Internet access and were unable to weigh in against the hunt via the online survey.

"With a topic like this, the tremendous controversy over hunting and trapping of wolves, they should have followed the law to make sure their rules were fully informed and so the public could have a real chance to voice their opinion," she said.

Minnesota didn't regulate the killing of wolves before the animals went on the endangered list in the 1970s. After that, all hunting and trapping was banned except under highly regulated circumstances for removing wolves believed to be killing livestock. Minnesota has the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states at an estimated 3,000, and the federal government determined that the region's wolf population has recovered enough to let Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan manage them.

Wolf hunting opponents in Wisconsin have won an injunction there against the use of dogs in that state's first season, which is due to open Oct. 15. Michigan has not yet established wolf seasons.