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DNR cuts wolf quota by nearly half

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Minnesota hunters will find it harder to kill a wolf this year or to obtain a license to hunt the predator.

The state Department of Natural Resources is cutting the number of wolves that can be killed to 220 this year, down from the quota of 400 last year during the state's first ever managed season. It also will dramatically reduce the number of hunting licenses, from 6,000 last year to 3,300 in 2013.

Neither hunters nor people who want to protect wolves are happy about the decision. 

DNR officials say they decided to curtail wolf hunting after a recent survey by the agency showed the state's wolf population has declined by 24 percent since 2008, when the agency counted 2,921 wolves. Last winter, the agency counted 2,211wolves.

Hunters may enter a lottery process to obtain a wolf license starting Thursday. Reducing the number of hunters and the number of wolves they are allowed to kill should keep the wolf population stable, said Dan Stark, the DNR's large carnivore specialist.

"We're just allowing for the taking of wolves through hunting or trapping in a way that we think is sustainable and not going to have a major overall influence on wolf numbers," he said.

Lowering the number of wolves that hunters may kill during Minnesota's second wolf season doesn't satisfy those opposed to the hunt. 

"My reaction is we should just stop the hunt," said Maureen Hackett, executive director of Howling for Wolves. "I think it indicates the wolf population is quite fragile and that the DNR has really no idea how this wolf hunting really will affect the wolf population."

But some hunters question the DNR's population estimate. Among them is Brian Bachman, who runs Arrowhead Wilderness Outfitters in Brainerd, Minn. Last year, he took four clients out on hunting trips. Two managed to shoot wolves.

Bachman said the latest DNR wolf survey was taken before this spring's batch of wolf pups were born, so the agency's population estimates are probably low.  He thinks the DNR is being too conservative.

"I think they bowed to political pressure," Bachman said. "I don't see any reason for doing that. There are a lot of wolves where I'm at.  There are a lot of wolves around the state."

DNR officials acknowledge some 2,600 pups were born after their survey was taken, and they think as many as half will survive the summer, providing a boost to the wolf population. 

But they say they'll remain conservative on the number of wolves that can be killed until there's more long-term data on the relationship between hunting and the state's wolf population.