In January of 2012, Minnesota’s wolf population was removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and put under the control of Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources. Despite the success of repopulating wolves after a long and threatened history in Minnesota, emotions were mixed as Minnesotans learned of the DNR’s plan for a hunting and trapping season to regulate the number of wolves in Minnesota.
The hunting of wolves was set to begin in the fall of 2012, the same year the species was removed from the Endangered Species Act.
Hunting wolves has become controversial as Minnesotans question the legitimacy of hunting wolves after having been removed from the ESA only months before. So are the wolves no longer endangered, and if they are, how endangered are they?
According to the DNR, wolves had been almost completely eliminated in the West by the 1930s and an estimated 750 wolves existed in the state during the 50s. It was not until 1966 that the federal Endangered Preservation Act was passed. In 1967 the grey wolf was added to the endangered species list which provided wolves with limited protection, and in 1974 wolves were afforded full protection when the ESA was passed into law. It then became illegal to kill a wolf except in the defense of human life.
During this time the population of wolves in Minnesota increased with an estimation of 1,200 wolves during the 70s, and their range expanded significantly. Within a matter of years Minnesota’s wolves were reclassified at the threatened level of federal protection. ‘Problem wolves’ were then allowed to be killed in response to livestock depredation.
As populations continued to grow, wolves in Minnesota were reclassified as special concern and then removed completely from the federal protection list in 2012.
According to the DNR, wolf populations were steady between 1998 and 2008, with an estimated number of 2,900 wolves, exceeding the expectation of many Fish and Wildlife officials. The wolf population in Minnesota is now the largest in the lower 48 states.
With a conservative estimate of 3,000 wolves in 2012, the DNR has initiated a wolf hunting season with a maximum quota of 400 wolves as a response to a growing population of wolves that are also increasing their range. A maximum of 200 wolves has been allocated in an early hunting season from Nov. 3-18,and 200 more wolves for a late hunting and trapping season from Nov. 24- Jan. 31. After nine days of the early season, a total of 102 wolves have been taken in the state of Minnesota.
Despite attacks from environmental groups on the DNR, wolf hunting started and many are questioning the future of the wolf population. The DNR has teamed with many scientist and conservationists that have studied wolves in Minnesota.
All have agreed that hunting wolves is a practical way to regulate the population. According to the DNR “The goal of this management plan is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing wolf-human conflicts that inevitably result when wolves and people live in the same vicinity.” Even after hearing this, there are many who are still against wolf hunting.
Sophomore Environmental Studies Major Stephanie Aho is strongly against the hunting of wolves. She believes that it is wasteful to hunt an animal which is prized mainly for their pelts. She says that she can understand why people would hunt deer because they are a food source for many Minnesotan families. Aho also believes that hunting wolves will have a negative impact on the ecosystem. Aho argues that it is not our place as humans to regulate animal populations, but that we should leave nature alone.
“Hunting wolves may do more harm than good for ecosystems we seek to protect,” Aho said. Aho wants people to know that every animal has a larger role in its ecosystem than humans can fully understand.
As an avid hunter, Sophomore and Environmental Studies Major Scott Hauer looks at hunting wolves differently. “The DNR uses wolf hunting not only for recreation but for a challenge that will help maintain a steady population of wolves,” Hauer said.
Hauer emphasizes the ecological and economic value of hunting in Minnesota. He thinks hunting is essential to controlling the population of wolves especially since there are so many deer being taken in the fall.
“When you take so many deer out of the woods, you have to take wolves so that there is equilibrium between the predator and prey,” Hauer said.
Hauer supports hunting because it is a major source of revenue for the state, citing that half a billion dollars are generated in the state from the deer season alone. “6,000 wolf tags were sold to people knowing that only 400 wolves can be taken. A lot of that money is going back into the environment,” Hauer said.
The controversy of hunting wolves might appear to be the classic clash between hunters and environmentalists, but a survey of about 7,500 Minnesotans showed that 80% of responses were against the hunting and trapping of wolves.
It is evident that Minnesotans value wolves. The all too clear history of wolves in the West has Minnesotans worried that the lessons from the past have not been heeded.
As the early season approaches its middle mark, Minnesotans will watch to see if all 400 wolves will be taken, and what effect, if any, the hunt will have on the stability of the wolf population. Despite the hunting of wolves, the DNR has made it clear that wolves will continue to flourish in the Northwoods and that the sacred animal will never be persecuted as it has been in the past.