by John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
A majority of Minnesotans surveyed last month favor a five-year delay before the state holds another wolf hunting and trapping season, according to a poll conducted for a pro-wolf group.
The group Howling for Wolves today released results of a statewide survey of 600 registered voters that also found two-thirds of those polled say there is no reason for a hunt if landowners and others already have the right to kill wolves attacking livestock, pets or people. Of the people surveyed, 25 percent said a wolf hunt still is necessary.
The poll was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Lake Research Partners from Feb. 28 to March 4 and comes as the Minnesota Legislature considered a bill to delay the next sport hunting and trapping season for wolves by at least five years. That five-year delay was called for by a wolf-advisory committee a decade ago but was dropped by lawmakers last year when they approved a hunt the same year federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves were dropped in the Great Lakes region.
The survey also found that 66 percent oppose the use of traps, snares and bait to hunt and trap wolves in Minnesota with 29 percent favoring trapping of wolves.
A state Senate committee hearing on the five-year delay is set for Thursday at the Capitol in St. Paul.
The poll is said to have a margin of error of 4 percent.
The poll also found that 75 percent of respondents thought it was wrong to allow the wolf hunting and trapping season without a wolf population survey in advance. The most recent Minnesota survey was conducted in 2008.
The poll found 79 percent said wolves were an asset to Minnesota, while 17 percent said they were not.
“Minnesotans clearly value the gray wolf and want to return to common-sense strategies outlined in the original management plan reached through a consensus process,” Maureen Hackett, founder of Howling For Wolves, said in a statement announcing the poll results.
Chris Niskanen, spokesman for the DNR, said the agency opposes delaying another season, adding that the population can handle another limited hunt. He said the DNR is conducting a survey of the wolf population and that experts expect the results to show a continued robust population even after the recent hunting and trapping.
“We’ve got more data now on the health of the wolf population than we ever had, thanks to the” data from wolves harvested during the season, Niskanen said, adding that the DNR can adjust the harvest quota based on the population survey.
After nearly 40 years of protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, wolves became fair game for hunters and trappers in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2012. State and federal wildlife officials agreed wolf numbers had increased enough to remove protections, and state lawmakers moved quickly to begin wolf seasons. Thousands of hunters and trappers applied for a few hundred permits available in each state as wolf-protection groups held protests and filed lawsuits to stop the hunts.
In the end, the seasons went on as proposed. Minnesota hunters and trappers killed 413 wolves. In Wisconsin, 117 wolves were shot and trapped.
Wolf supporters say it was too soon after wolf recovery to begin a large-scale hunting and trapping season for the big canines and noted Minnesota had little hard data on the wolf population. Backers of wolf hunting and trapping said the seasons would help reduce conflicts with livestock and that the wolf population easily can withstand the current level of killing.