As Minn., Wis. Seasons Begin, Wolf Hunters Explain the Draw
Posted at: 10/29/2012 12:00 AM
| Updated at: 11/20/2012 4:26 PM
By: Alan Hoglund
We hear them, but almost never see them in the wild.
In Minnesota, this weekend grey wolves will become a target for hunters for the first time in nearly 40 years.
In Wisconsin, hunters are already two weeks into their first wolf hunting season. And they're having luck tracking them down. Monday night, hunters had taken more than 35 wolves.
South of Superior, Jeff Smith is catching glimpses of the wolves with his 18 trail cameras scattered around his more than 700 acres of hunting land. Those cameras, and wolf tracks in the sand, show that the wolves are close.
"They're always on the move, checking the food plots for deer," Smith said. "They're going in a big circle."
Deer come for the food, and Smith said wolves come for the deer. He said where the tracks are, and which cameras the wolves show up on, help him determine where to hunt for the night.
Smith said he's been a deer hunter for decades, and does it for the challenge. But he said he is hunting wolves because they're killing the deer on his land. "Seventy-five percent of our does are without fawns this year," he said.
The day before we spoke with Smith, we met Rep. Dave Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, on his hunting property just south of International Falls. Smith's still hoping to take a wolf, but Dill told us he's done it three times.
"Theres a thrill that you were able to conquer this," Dill said.
Dill said he shot all three of his wolves in Canada over the course of many, many years. He authored the bill creating a wolf hunt in Minnesota, for recreation, and population management. He called them the most elusive animal in the state. "It's a survivor because it's the top of the food chain, and it knows exactly what to do when to do it."
Dill expects one of the reasons it's going to be hard for hunters to take a wolf, is because much of Minnesota is covered in thick, dense forests. He said it's going to be tough for hunters to see the wolves, and the wolves are going to know when the hunters are around. "Now a wolf can see you, hear you, smell you and sense you. That's the reason they're the number one predator," he said.
Jim Tuomola, Dill's Republican challenger for the Minnesota House District 6A seat, sent Eyewitness News a statement on the wolf hunt. With just days remaining ahead of the elections, Tuomola said he would have liked to see the hunt in the state designed differently. "We should be focusing first on known depredation areas where kills are most necessary," he said.
In other words, Tuomola said hunting should be focused on areas where wolves are killing livestock and pets instead of their natural prey, like deer.
About 3,000 wolves call the state of Minnesota home. During the 2012-2013 season, hunters and trappers can kill 400 of them. Wisconsin's wolf population sits around 850. Hunters there can kill 116 of them this season. Eighty-five more are reserved for Native American tribes, according to wildlife officials. But they told Eyewitness News tribes won't be taking part in hunts in either state.
Between the two states, more than 7,000 hunters and trappers will get permits. When the kill limits are reached, the hunts are over. Smith doesn't expect hunters will even get close to the limits in either state. "They're going be surprised at how few wolves are taken," he said.
But Dill suspects those using foot traps to take a wolf might make up the difference.
Like our hunters, Jerritt Johnston, the Education Director at Ely's International Wolf Center, said bagging a wolf is going to be tough. "People who are going out to target wolves for hunting or trapping are going to have a very challenging time."
Johnston said wolves know to keep away from humans. "As the human makes a move, or makes a motion of any kind or noise, the wolf takes off," he said.
But for many people in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, tracking down a wolf isn't a concern. They're more concerned with keeping them alive.
More than a week ago, about 100 people met for a rally opposing wolf hunting in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse. They were preparing to walk through Duluth for that very cause. Among them where members of the Native American community and animal advocacy groups like Howling for Wolves, and the United States Humane Society.
Howard Goldman, the Minnesota Director with the United States Humane Society, said "the only reason wolves are being hunted, is because people want trophies."
Goldman went on to say "we think they should not have been delisted....they should remain protected throughout the Great Lakes."
Wolves were taken off of the endangered species list in December. But Goldman said the population should have been allowed to grow more. He worries hunting will lead to a "significant decline" in their population.
"We want this stopped," Goldman said. "Wolves deserve to be protected."
Johnston said he's neutral on the issue, but told us science says that "significant decline" won't happen. "Ultimately the science is pretty good that it won't have an overall impact on the wolf population. Wolves will breed," he said.
Back at the rally against the hunt, we met activist Robert Shimek from the White Earth Indian Reservation. "I support those who are trying to shut it down statewide," he said.
Shimek said the White Earth Indian Reservation Tribal Council declared the reservation a wolf sanctuary, meaning no hunting or trapping. He's fighting for the same ban on the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations.
A Fond du Lac wildlife expert said it hasn't declared its reservation a wolf sanctuary, and said the Minnesota DNR refused to ban hunting there.
Over the weekend, Eyewitness News learned learned wolf hunting won't be allowed on reservations at Nett Lake, Lake Vermilion and Grand Portage.
Shimek said the Anishinaabe, or original peoples, have special ties to wolves, or what he calls Ma'iingan. "What happens to Anishinaabe, happens to Ma'iingan, and what happens to Ma'iingan, happens to Anishinaabe," he said.
Shimek has concerns the killing will continue beyond the first season. "What about next year, the year after that, and the year after that?"
The DNR will decide on future seasons, and the kill limits. Meanwhile, the fall hunt will go on. But as long as the wolf, and wolf hunting are part of the landscape, don't expect the fight over the future of either, to fade.