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BRAD DOKKEN: Whatever the outcome, northwest Minnesota must be heard in wolf debate

A meeting Thursday night in Roseau, Minn., painted an accurate picture, I think, of what people in northwest Minnesota are feeling about gray wolves.

Brad Dokken mug

A meeting Thursday night in Roseau, Minn., painted an accurate picture, I think, of what people in northwest Minnesota are feeling about gray wolves.

There was no "shoot, shovel and shut up" sentiment expressed -- words I've heard more than once in northwest Minnesota -- but people definitely feel wolves are too abundant.

That's especially true in Kittson County, which is on the western fringe of wolf range.

Thursday night's meeting came a day before wolf management returned to the state, the result of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to remove the species from federal protection. Biology supports that decision. Minnesota now has an estimated population of 3,000 wolves, nearly twice federal recovery goals.

A handful of officials from the Department of Natural Resources attended the meeting, including northwest regional director Lori Dowling of Bemidji. Ultimately, Dowling said, the Minnesota Legislature will have the final say in shaping the wolf plan and the parameters of a hunting and trapping season.

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

Thursday night's meeting wasn't a formal hearing on the DNR's wolf plan or its proposal for a wolf season -- Dowling said she expects public input sessions will be offered across the state -- but there was an opportunity for people to speak their minds.

The feeling, in a word, was frustration. That was especially true among cattle producers, who felt their hands were tied when wolves killed their livestock. Minnesota's wolf depredation laws require producers provide physical evidence, such as the remains of an animal, to document a kill and receive compensation for the loss.

Sometimes, though, there's nothing left to show -- especially if the animal killed is a calf.

"I'm getting sick of having to call a game official after the fact but not getting help," said one cattle producer from Badger, Minn. "What do I do? I've lost an average of one animal a year for the last six years. I'm not against the wolf; I'm against the amount of them. And we have a lot of them."

A producer in Kittson County said the DNR's proposed harvest quota of 400 wolves didn't go far enough. He said he's had federal trappers on his property because of wolf complaints on seven occasions and has taken several photos of what's left of his losses after wolf kills.

The photos are graphic, he said. They also tell a story that's not being heard by most people outside northwest Minnesota.

"I've got some family who are tree huggers and frog lovers, but you show them these pictures and they agree something has got to be done," he said. "If we don't take at least 400, we're gaining absolutely nothing."

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Another part of the DNR's wolf plan that didn't sit well with livestock producers was the provision that divides the state into two zones. Producers in Zone B, which includes the southern two-thirds of Minnesota, have more flexibility in dealing with problem wolves than producers in Zone A, the heart of the state's wolf range.

In Zone A, producers have to document an "immediate threat" before they can kill a problem wolf under the DNR's management plan. That requirement doesn't exist in Zone B.

The dividing line is especially significant in the northwest because it cuts right through the center of Roseau County.

"As soon as you drew that line across the state, I think you lost a lot of support -- especially from the cattlemen in Zone A," said one livestock producer who lives in eastern Roseau County. "Don't single us out and treat us different."

The significance of that sentiment wasn't lost on Dowling.

"What I'm asking from you is to go to the table with us to make that change in St. Paul," she responded. "Work with us."

Having grown up in northwest Minnesota, I think it's difficult for people in more populated areas to understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to controlling wolf numbers.

Wolves are magnificent animals, and I love hearing them on crisp fall evenings when I'm outside by the fire. But there needs to be a balance, a middle ground that's proven difficult to achieve in Minnesota's wolf debate.

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People in the northwest understand that, as well.

"I don't like it, but we're starting to understand about going slow," one property owner said of the DNR's wolf plan. "It needs to be done."

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

Wolf management zones

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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