The Minnesota House of Representatives voted this week to ban the recreational hunting and trapping of wolves in the state, should the animal be removed from federal endangered species protection.
The proposal was not initially included in the omnibus environment bill. DFL Rep. Peter Fischer of Maplewood introduced the ban as an amendment during floor debate Monday.
The last time wolves were hunted in Minnesota, from 2012-2014, after they were removed from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes region, more than 900 were killed.
“Most of them were killed for fun, display of their pelts, or for bragging rights,” Fischer contended.
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Several GOP lawmakers expressed indignation over the proposal. They said a decision whether to allow wolf hunting should be left up to state wildlife officials.
“I’m appalled that this is on this table. It’s dangerous for our citizens, dangerous for our pets, and dangerous for Minnesota,” said Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge.
Republicans argued wolves are eating deer prized by hunters, killing cattle and other livestock raised by farmers and ranchers, threatening pets, and, even, they suggested, people.
“This will take options off the table if wolves do get to be more and more of a problem,” said Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown. “[If] you see one in your backyard in the metro area? You're gonna wish you could hunt it,” Daudt told his DFL colleagues.
The Minnesota DNR stresses that wolves are not dangerous to people. There has only been one documented instance of a wolf attacking a person in Minnesota.
Ten years ago, a 75-pound wolf injured a teenage boy who was camping on the shores of Lake Winnibigoshish. State officials later determined the wolf had abnormalities in its jaw that would have made it difficult to capture and kill prey.
Wolves are currently considered a threatened species in Minnesota. That means they can only be killed in defense of human life.
State and federal trappers are permitted to capture and kill wolves that threaten pets or livestock. Last year trappers killed 142 wolves in the state. At least 10 were killed illegally.
Maureen Hackett, founder and president of the advocacy group Howling for Wolves, called the House vote “a huge step forward in the treatment of wolves and also in allowing us to coexist with them with less problems. Illegal killing of wolves happens all the time. And a wolf hunt ignites this wolf killing in our state,” Hackett said.
DFL Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn of Roseville, who voted in support of the amendment, also argues that wolves are sacred to many Native Americans.
“As an Ojibwe person, wolves hold an important role in our culture. Ojibwe folks don’t hunt wolves. Our way of thinking, and the way that I was brought up, is that, ‘so goes the wolf, so goes humans,’” she said.
Hunting is not allowed as long as wolves remain on the federal endangered species list. They’ve been removed from the list twice in recent years, which then places wolves under state management. But the courts have reinstated federal protection in both cases, most recently in 2022.
Many people have argued wolves in Minnesota should be removed from endangered species protection. DNR officials say the animal, once hunted to near extinction, is now stable and thriving.
Recent estimates indicate about 2,700 wolves roam Minnesota. That’s nearly half of all wolves in the entire lower 48 states.
DNR opposes proposal
A new wolf management plan released by the DNR last year calls for maintaining a healthy statewide wolf population of between 2,200 and 3,000 wolves.
The plan does not take a position on a possible state wolf hunt, if gray wolves are again removed from endangered species protection.
Rather, it sets a framework for future decision-making about whether to hold a hunting season, including consultation with tribal governments, making science-based decisions, and ensuring that the wolf population in the state remains viable.
According to a DNR survey, nearly 50 percent of Minnesotans oppose wolf hunting, with about 41 percent of people supporting a season.
In a statement, DNR spokesperson Gail Nosek said the agency does not support the House provision to ban a potential wolf hunt, “given the strength” of the recently updated wolf management plan.
“In light of the robust, science-based plan we have in place, we do not support legislation that includes mandates or restricts the methods by which the Minnesota DNR manages wolves. Responsible fish and wildlife conservation requires that a full complement of management tools be available to the agency,” Nosek said.
So far the Minnesota Senate has not considered banning a recreational wolf hunting season. The proposal received an informational hearing, but a spokesperson for the Senate DFL caucus confirmed that it is not currently part of the omnibus environment bill in that chamber.