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Minnesota DNR takes wolf plan on the road

ROSEAU, Minn. -- It's been a long time coming for many northwest Minnesota residents, but gray wolves will be fair game in the state this fall. About 175 people attended a town hall meeting Thursday night in the Roseau High School Auditorium to h...

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This undated image provided by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks shows a wolf in Montana.(AP Photo/Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, File)

ROSEAU, Minn. -- It's been a long time coming for many northwest Minnesota residents, but gray wolves will be fair game in the state this fall.

About 175 people attended a town hall meeting Thursday night in the Roseau High School Auditorium to hear staff from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explain details of the agency's Wolf Management Plan and its proposal for an inaugural wolf hunting and trapping season this fall.

The DNR outlined the plans Thursday in the Minnesota Legislature before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.

"One of the challenges for the DNR is clearly, wolves are viewed differently in different parts of the state," said Lori Dowling, regional director for the DNR in Bemidji. "We want to make sure as we implement this management plan that it's done right."

As part of the DNR?s proposal, as many as 6,000 people could buy licenses for the joint hunting and trapping season, and the harvest quota would be 400. The season would run from Nov. 24 through early January or until the quota is met.

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The DNR would issue the licenses by lottery.

The proposed hunting and trapping season is just one part of the DNR's Wolf Management Plan, which has been completed since 2001. The state resumes control of managing its wolf population today after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision last month to remove the species from federal protection.

Estimated at fewer than 750 in the 1950s, Minnesota's wolf population today numbers about 3,000, according to DNR estimates. The state's wolf plan calls for maintaining a population of at least 1,600 wolves.

"The eyes of Minnesota are on the northwest," Dowling said Thursday night. "We want to handle it right so we can keep this management tool."

Besides a harvest season, Minnesota's wolf plan offers citizens the ability to protect livestock and domestic pets from wolf depredation. Previously, only control experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services branch could kill problem wolves.

Wildlife Services officials have removed about 200 problem wolves annually across the state in recent years, but that program now is out of money because of federal budget cuts. That left livestock producers with little recourse for controlling problem wolves until today. And if the sentiment Thursday night in Roseau was any indication, returning wolves to state control didn't happen any time too soon.

Byron Cole, a federal trapper from Warroad, Minn., said he took 33 problem wolves last year for USDA Wildlife Services, and most of them were in Kittson County.

Besides Kittson, Cole handled wolf depredation complaints in Roseau, Marshall, Lake of the Woods and Beltrami counties.

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"Man, we've got wolves, and they're moving west," Cole said. "I just can't believe it how they're moving that way. I think myself that 2,000 wolves are in these five counties up here in northwest Minnesota."

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, attended the DNR hearing in St. Paul before driving north to Roseau for Thursday night's meeting.

He said one DNR official in St. Paul described "a lot of pent-up enthusiasm" for a wolf season.

"I said there's a lot of pent-up frustration in my district," Fabian said. "I think we have a great opportunity as a deer hunting community to make a significant difference on the final bill."

Split in two

The DNR's Wolf Management Plan splits the state into two zones with a dividing line that essentially cuts through the center of Roseau County. In Zone B, which includes the western half of Roseau County and the southern two-thirds of Minnesota, a person can shoot a wolf at any time to protect livestock, domestic animals or pets on their property.

The rules are more restrictive in Zone A, which allows for the killing of problem wolves only in cases of "immediate threat." That discrepancy didn't sit well with livestock producers living on the Zone A side of the line.

"What makes their cattle and livestock in Zone B any better than Zone A?" asked Loren Horner of Warroad.

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The DNR's Dowling said the zones were based on science and didn't take local politics into account. It's also likely, she said, that the Legislature will make several changes to the wolf plan and hunting proposals.

Public hearings on the wolf proposals also will be held across the state, she said.

"It's the Legislature that's going to decide -- it's not the DNR," Dowling said. "The Legislature is going to have the last word in a lot of this."

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: ROSEAU
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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