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White Earth acts to ban wolf hunting

Leader of the Pack: A timber wolf peers back at the camera in this U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office photo.

A new era in Minnesota hunting kicks off Saturday, as the gray wolf hunt starts at sunrise. But some area permit-holders are going to be disappointed.

The White Earth Indian Reservation declared the entire reservation a wolf sanctuary and no wolf hunting will be allowed.

The gray or timber wolf was removed from the endangered species list in January and the Minnesota Legislature quickly passed a wolf hunting bill, which Gov. Mark Dayton signed during the 2012 session.

The main arguing point with many of Minnesota's northern tribes is that the state rushed into a decision on a 2012 wolf hunt without doing just research into the state's wolf population. It's estimated there are about 3,000 wolves in Minnesota -- the largest population in the lower 48 states.

"The state never really consulted with the tribe," said Mike Swan, White Earth Tribal DNR manager. "We met once in what they said was mostly a listening session and we presented the position of the tribe."

At that March 2012 meeting, Swan said the tribe's position -- to not have a wolf hunt -- fell on deaf ears. The Red Lake and Leech Lake bands voiced a similar opinion at that meeting, he said.

"Pretty much all the tribes at that time, too, stated the same thing," Swan said. "Back in March, we told the state that we didn't want it, but the state went ahead anyway."

The Red Lake Tribe declared its more than 800,000 acres of land a wolf sanctuary in 2010. Red Lake conducted a wolf survey in 2008 and subsequently enacted a wolf management plan in 2010.

"The plan describes a 'common sense approach' to wolf management," according to a Red Lake news release, "where wolf issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis, and management actions will promote co-existence with this top-level predator."

The Leech Lake Band has banned enrolled members from hunting wolves, and tribal land is off limits, but non-native lands within the boundaries of the Leech Lake Reservation are open to wolf hunting, according to Steve Mortensen, fish wildlife and plant resources director.

He said as of Tuesday, Oct. 30, the tribe is still discussing whether to ban wolf hunting all together on the entire reservation.

Leech Lake has a draft of an Eastern Timber Wolf Management Plan, which was started in January, but that plan has yet to be enacted.

Wolves are considered sacred in native tradition and Swan said the hunt is partially a cultural matter.

"Our creation story has the wolf in it," he said. "And one of our clans is the Wolf Clan."

But the White Earth DNR has to also consider other possibilities.

"Do we have a viable wolf population out there, and if we do, is it affecting our deer population," Swan said. "So those are biological things we have to take a look at and those things weren't even considered when the state did this."

A modern wolf hunt, Swan said, is more of a sport hunt.

"We kind of look at our hunting, fishing and gathering as more a sustenance -- something we're going to kill and something we're going to eat. And we don't see (hunters) doing that with the wolf," he said.

Swan said he believes there are two active wolf packs that roam the reservation, each with 6 to 8 wolves.

"But they do cover a large area," he said. "All we can say is the same as everybody else -- we really don't know (how many wolves there are)."