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Dan Stark, a large carnivore specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, speaks at a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon at Horace May Elementary School on the state's wolf history and management plan, as well as trapping and hunting regulations being considered by the state Legislature and the DNR. Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, announced the meeting as an opportunity for residents to provide comment in helping set wolf hunting regulations. ANNE WILLIAMS | BEMIDJI PIONEER
Dan Stark, a large carnivore specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, speaks at a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon at Horace May Elementary School on the state's wolf history and management plan, as well as trapping and hunting regulations being considered by the state Legislature and the DNR. Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, announced the meeting as an opportunity for residents to provide comment in helping set wolf hunting regulations. ANNE WILLIAMS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

Mixed reactions heard at town hall meeting on wolf season

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Tim Ewert, a local trapper who also does historical reenactments of fur traders from the early 1800s, said he has been waiting 50 years for the chance to trap a wolf.

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Since he was 12 years old, the Bemidji man said he has trapped a variety of animals, but called the chance to get a gray wolf "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

"I'm 61 years old now, so I've waited 50 years for this," he said. "I might make a special coat for my grandkid out of (a wolf pelt) and make a hood at the top."

Ewert was among the approximately 75 people who attended a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon at Horace May Elementary School. The meeting was announced by Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, as a way to gather public input about the trapping and hunting regulations being considered by the state Legislature and the DNR.

Trappers, farmers, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, natural resources professionals and interested citizens listened as Dan Stark, a large carnivore specialist with the DNR, spoke about the state's wolf history and management plan and fielded numerous questions from the audience about the proposed season.

The DNR is proposing to let hunters and trappers take 400 wolves this fall. Minnesota has around 3,000 gray wolves.

The agency proposes to cap the number of licenses at 6,000 that would be allocated via lottery. The season would start in late November and would be closed when the quote is met.

Stark said research indicates the population could sustain a higher harvest quota, but said the DNR is taking a conservative approach for the state's first season.

The DNR has also proposed to charge $50 for a wolf license, which Stark said is based on the cost of a bear license.

Currently, a bear license costs $38. However, Stark said, the DNR could increase fees in the near future, which means a bear license could go up to $44.

"We want to make (wolf hunting) a unique hunting opportunity and develop a niche around hunting," Stark said. "There is an appreciation that people have to hunt certain species and the wolf can be one of these."

Stark said this was the case with bear hunting in Minnesota. When the DNR started regulating a bear season in the state, the population was fewer than 10,000 bears. Now, he said, there are between 15,000-20,000 bears.

"We manage the season and still maintain a significant number of bears," he added.

But not everyone at the public meeting was convinced DNR officials and state lawmakers have spent enough time considering the challenges and potential conflicts a hunting season could bring to certain areas in the state.

Dave Price, a wildlife biologist with the Red Lake DNR, said the Red Lake Indian Reservation has had its own wolf management plan in place for more than a year.

The Red Lake Tribal Council considers Red Lake land to be a wolf sanctuary, Price said, meaning wolves cannot be hunted unless they pose an immediate threat to human safety or are to be used for ceremonial purposes.

Some Red Lake officials feel the DNR and state lawmakers should have consulted with the Tribal Council before moving forward with the hunting season proposals, Price said.

"It's not that we wouldn't support a hunt, it's just that we weren't consulted," Price said. "There does need to be better communication between the DNR and the tribes. Tribes should have input on these things, especially Red Lake, which has 850,000 acres, which is a big chunk of land that is not covered underneath the state management plan."

As a wildlife biologist, Price said is also concerned about what will happen to wolves that are collared by Red Lake biologists to be monitored but that wander outside the tribe's reservation boundaries.

"What will happen to them?" he asked. "There is no buffer area."

Barry Babcock of Laporte, spoke during the meeting about his concerns that state legislators will try to make a wolf hunting season coincide with the deer hunting season.

"I've been hunting deer for pushing 50 years now and I live in wolf country, but wolves have so many limiting factors," Babcock said. "They have their own way of controlling their population. We need to learn to live with wolves. I'm really afraid we are moving too fast on this."

Stark responded by saying wolves killing other wolves is one of the most common ways the animals die naturally. However, he added, overall the most common reason why wolves die is human-caused.

"Livestock depredation, illegal shooting and vehicles - those things all add up and influence the wolf population," he said. "We try to account for that when establishing a quota and that's why it is what it is."

Carlson said legislators rely heavily on information from the DNR, but at the same time receive pressure from their constituents on when a hunting season should occur.

"If we decide we want to run a concurrent season as a Legislature, we have to be very careful we're checking in with the DNR to make sure we're not going to have some unintended consequences," he said.

Mark Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, who also served as a moderator at the public meeting, said predator control has always been an issue of concern for MDHA members. He said MDHA members want to see wolves maintain a viable population.

"But along with that we want to see them managed properly and see hunting be an active component of that," he said.

Gary Barnard, a natural resources professional and trapper from Blackduck, who came to the meeting with his wife, Mary, said he was happy to hear that trappers and hunters could possibly be able to harvest wolves in the near future.

"The biggest thing they have to work out is whether they will allow the incidental taking of wolves during deer season or have a special season for them," Barnard said. "I can see both sides to that. My preference is with trappers that we don't get overwhelmed by deer hunters, but it's only 400 wolves."

Mary added, "I really sympathize with the cattlemen, too, I didn't realize how many wolves are out there."

Dennis Parish of Solway, who also does fur trade historical reenactment, attended the public meeting because he said he had an interest in how the wolf population in the state was doing.

Having a wolf pelt in his collection sounds exciting, he said.

"I am excited about trapping them," he added. "I think that timber wolves and people can coexist and it has been proven they already come back and I think it will be a good deal."

For details on the DNR's proposal, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html.

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