Legislators deem wolf hunting and trapping season a success

The state’s first ever wolf hunting and trapping season is history.

The Department of Natural Resources announced wolf season closed in the last open zone at the end of shooting and trapping hours Jan. 3.

“Our plan was to close the season when the harvest was at or projected to reach 400 (wolves),” said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR, in a statement.

Harvest numbers out of the last open zone, the northwest zone, showed that 181 wolves had been registered.

Late and early season wolf harvest numbers combined total was 395 animals.

DNR officials insist they’ve been conservative in setting the 400-wolf harvest season blink-off threshold.

Wolf hunters in the east-central zone, a rectangle east of the Mississippi River including the cities of Milaca and Hinckley, have taken nine wolves late season, according to the Department of Natural Resources website.

The DNR closed the east-central zone Dec. 14.

In the Arrowhead or northeast zone, which includes the cities of Duluth and Virginia, hunters and trappers took 58 wolves late season and the DNR also closed this zone.

While having fewer than 750 wolves in the 1950s, it’s estimated that Minnesota had a stable wolf population of about 3,000 animals going into the hunting and trapping season.

The state’s wolf population is the largest of any state in the lower 48, according to the DNR.

Legislators are pleased with the results of the wolf season.

“I think it’s been going very, very well,” said Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, shortly before closure of the season.

Hackbarth, former environment and natural resources committee chairman, personally believed the 400-animal cutoff should have been higher.

But the DNR went with a more conservative number, and he accepted it, Hackbarth said.

Incoming House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee Chairman David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, also said the season was going well.

“I have not heard a single complaint by any hunter or trapper,” said Dill, speaking in late December.

Although withholding judgement for now, Dill senses the reason why zones have closed early is because the state’s wolf population is actually larger than currently believed.

“That’s what I suspect,” he said.

Hunters in the early wolf- hunting season, that closed on Nov. 18, took 147 wolves.

In the east-central zone, hunters registered eight wolves, with 61 wolves being registered in the northeast zone and 78 in the northwest zone.

At that time, DNR officials thought the wolf-harvest trend mirrored the deer harvest.

“The harvest was highest at the beginning of the season then declined as fewer hunters returned afield,” said Stark said in a press release.

As for this season’s harvest numbers, a nationally recognized wolf expert suggests there may not be a lot of information to be culled.

University of Minnesota Professor and U.S. Geological Survey biologist Dave Mech, who testified before legislative committees last year, indicated little can be extracted from the early harvest numbers.

There’s so much chance involved in wolf-hunter success, Mech said in an email, “nothing much” can be concluded.

“I said before the hunt and still believe that any result would not have surprised me,” he said.

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