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Wolves in rifle sights

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For the first time in decades, Minnesotans will be able to hunt and trap wolves this fall.

Once listed on the endangered species list, the Department of Natural Resources has worked for years to restore the Minnesota population from about 300 wolves in the 1970s to about 3,000 present day.

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"Wolf season isn't because of any overpopulation issues," DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Blane Klemek said. "It's because mainly, the animals have been delisted."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put forth a goal of about 1,500 wolves for Minnesota. That goal was surpassed though, with about 3,000 in the state.

"There is no other state, besides Alaska and of course Canada, that has more wolves," he said. "Minnesota has the most wolves of any the lower 48."

Klemek said the state legislature pressured the DNR to have a wolf hunting season earlier than what was proposed in the DNR's wolf management plan. The DNR proposed waiting five years -- for any animal, not just wolves -- from when the animal comes off the protected list to when they can be hunted and trapped. That plan was also approved by the USFWS.

A year ago though, legislators voted to have a hunting-trapping season before the five-year wait was up.

"That was not a DNR maneuver. That was the legislature that mandated that DNR implement a wolf hunting and trapping season," Klemek said.

It's been a process to remove the wolves from the endangered species list, too. They were taken off and then because of public outcry and lawsuits, they were placed back on the list. That went back and forth three times until they were finally removed from the list for good -- for now anyway.

Klemek said the DNR tries to stay neutral and just let the process unfold in situations like that.

Licensed to hunt/trap

The DNR plans to issue 3,600 permits for people to hunt and trap wolves, with a cap of only 400 wolves allowed to be harvested.

"If that quota of 400 is reached at any time during the seasons, the season is over," Klemek said.

Target harvests have been established in each of the state's three wolf hunting zones, and if a target harvest is achieved, hunting and trapping will be closed in that zone.

Applications for the wolf hunting and trapping season are being taken now through Sept. 6. Hunters can apply for one of three licenses: early season hunting, late season hunting and late season trapping. Zones and dates can be found on the DNR's website.

Application can be made at any DNR license agent, by calling 888-665-4236 or online. There is a $4 application fee.

It is a lottery drawing for the licenses, and they go on sale Oct. 15. Wolf licenses cost $30 for residents and $250 for nonresidents.

"The DNR went at this very conservatively," Klemek said. "We would like to see the wolf as a revered and respected big game animal, and obviously a closely regulated hunting and trapping season."

He added that it was never the intention of the DNR to have the wolf season coincide with the deer hunting season in Minnesota, but that wasn't able to pass in the legislature, so the two seasons will overlap some.

A trophy animal

Wolves are primarily hunted for the challenge of hunting a big game animal, Klemek said.

"Obviously a very intelligent, wary animal."

But, the hunters want their fur.

"It's a trophy animal, and I would imagine a lot of hunters that will take their first Minnesota wolf will probably display it like a trophy, having a nice rug made, or a pelt."

Klemek said the trapping season is when the wolf's pelt will be in its prime color, which could bring in some good money for the trapper.

"It's a polarizing issue. It seems that people either really revere the wolf, and many that really hate the wolf. And then some that are indifferent."

Montana and Idaho were also listed on the endangered list but removed because of the increase in population and can be hunted and trapped.

"Wolf is an animal that DNR definitely wants to be around forever. It's why we're looking at this inaugural season, that's why the proposals were put forward years ago were always conservative."

After reviewing the initial season, the DNR will likely be making wolf hunting a yearly season.

Klemek said the DNR will be able to track the number of wolves being harvested because each hunter and trapper will have to register that wolf with them, "just like you would a deer or a turkey or a bear."

"We will know how many have been taken, if the quota has been reached, and then gauge those results plus hunter participation and all these things go into a season management scenario for next year."

A management plan exists for all game hunted, but this will be a newer experience for wolf participation.

"They're a neat animal," Klemek said. "I've spent a lot of time in the woods, both on the job and hunting, and I've only seen half a dozen wild wolves in my life."

He's seen others and in packs while doing aerial surveys as well.

"They're a beautiful animal."

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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