By Mark W. Johnson
Mark W. Johnson is executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Saturday marks the firearms deer opener. It also is the opener of Minnesota's first regulated wolf hunting season. While this new wolf season has raised controversy, the reasons for it are quite straightforward.
Minnesota's wolf population is conservatively estimated at 3,000. It has been at that level since 1998. That 3,000 number is estimated by wildlife biologists at the lowest population time of the year (around February). At the high time of year (around May), wolf researchers report that wolf numbers double as pups are whelped. This means that, in November, Minnesota will have fewer than 6,000 but quite a bit more than 3,000 wolves. Around 5,000 is probably a safe estimate. And about 90 percent of those wolves are in wolf zone A, the northeast third of the state.
So why the hunt? As part of federal delisting of the wolf in the Northern Great Lakes States (Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan), the federal government has handed down wolf management authority to the states. Each of the states has a federally approved wolf management plan with population benchmarks (safety valves) to ensure relisting should the state plans go awry.
Minnesota's and Wisconsin's plans include "public harvest." This public harvest is not because we "must" kill wolves; it is because public harvest is part of an overall biologically and scientifically grounded wolf management strategy that is designed to protect, monitor and manage wolves.
One benefit of public harvest is the license revenue it raises: approximately $180,000 in Minnesota this year, plus about $92,000 from wolf lottery permit application fees. This revenue will be used to help pay for wolf monitoring and research.
Another part of the management strategy is dealing with wolves that kill livestock and pets. Such wolves are generally trapped and killed to eliminate the problem, and livestock owners are reimbursed for verified wolf-killed livestock. The wolf season will not eliminate depredation problems, but it may help reduce wolf numbers in problem areas to reduce depredation occurrences.
Wolves are an incredible creature of the wild, as are moose, deer, ducks, grouse, etc. Interestingly, Minnesota has always been the stronghold for wolves in the lower 48 states. In large part this has been due to the excellent wolf habitat we have. In fact, when wolves were placed on the endangered species list (ESA) in 1974, they still had a relatively stable and persistent population of 500-700 in Minnesota. The problem was that they were not doing well in other states; hence listing under ESA was required.
Those opposing a wolf hunt vary in their opinions. Some believe wolves are sacred. Others believe wolves should never be hunted. Some believe wolves should be encouraged to repopulate all lands across all 50 states. Some blame wolf depredation of livestock and pets upon man's encroachment into wolf territory and believe man should leave. Some just don't like any hunting of any animal.
But those like me like to hunt and feel it is our intimate and sacred way of connecting with nature.
Whatever your opinion, the reasons for wolf management remain the same. Wolves have recovered and are now delisted from the ESA. As such, Minnesota is charged by the federal government to manage wolves. Part of that management plan is to make sure that Minnesota maintains a healthy wolf population of at least 1,600. Another part of the plan is to minimize wolf depredations upon livestock and pets. And yet another part of the plan is public harvest that in turn helps pay for the overall management.
I think all can agree that man now inhabits our landscape. With habitation comes responsibility to watch over and conserve our natural resources for future generations. Simply ignoring the resources will not accomplish conservation goals; neither will allowing unfettered use of the resources. Thankfully, in America, we consciously follow sound science and biologically prescribed wildlife management plans designed specifically to protect and to conserve, and to provide recreation opportunities as well. And the recreation pays for the plans.
This is the North American model of wildlife management. This is exactly what is being done in Minnesota by our DNR through the Minnesota wolf management plan. This is why, despite the controversy, the gray wolf will be assured of a long, healthy future in Minnesota.
For a contrary view, see "It's a mistake to start down the path of killing wolves again."