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By Dave Orrick
By a one-vote margin, the Minnesota House on Tuesday voted to ban hunting on wolves — a victory for wolf protectionists hoping to gird against the Trump administration’s plan to remove protections for the iconic animal.
A ban on wolf hunting would be a reversal for Minnesota — the only state in the Lower 48 where the animals were never eradicated and the first to adopt a hunting season when it became legal again several years ago.
Today, wolf hunting isn’t allowed — but only because the animal is on the federal endangered species list. Under current state law, if wolves were removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act — as the Trump administration has announced it plans to seek — they could be hunted as soon as fall 2020, although some think a hunt this fall could be possible.
From 2012 to 2014, hunting and trapping seasons were held on wolves, until a federal judge ruled that the plans of Upper Midwestern states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan — were inadequate.
Biologists with the Department of Natural Resources have said the wolf population, which is most concentrated in the northeast portion of the state, is stable and able to withstand limited hunting and trapping. In September, the agency estimated the population around 2,655 wolves in 465 wolf packs.
But the question of whether to hunt them has remained divisive and the politics of wolf protections have often crossed party lines.
In broad strokes, metro lawmakers have often opposed hunting, while those in greater Minnesota have tended to be in favor of allowing it. That often has meant Democrats have opposed it, while Republicans have supported a hunt — but that’s an overly simplistic view.
Gov. Mark Dayton, for example, a Minneapolis Democrat, allowed the resumption of hunting in 2014, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, also a Minneapolis Democrat and presidential candidate, has been a vocal supporter, often suggesting a “Governor’s Wolf Hunting Opener” when speaking to hunting groups. Each year for years, some lawmaker has proposed banning wolf hunting, but it’s never gained enough traction.
That phenomenon of crossing party lines was on display Tuesday, when state Rep. Rick Hansen, a hunter and one of the leaders of the House Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Caucus on hunting-related issues, announced he would vote in favor of the wolf-hunting ban, but he recommended to his fellow lawmakers, “Vote your districts.” In other words, Hansen said, this issue is beyond mere party unity.
The ban was proposed by Rep. Peter Fischer, DFL-Maplewood, as an amendment to a larger environment and natural resources bill.
The amendment passed 66-65.
The larger environment bill passed 73-60.
CHANCES OF BECOMING LAW?
The likelihood of the ban becoming law was unclear Tuesday.
The ban is not included in the companion bill that passed the Senate last week, and past attempts to pass a ban in the Senate have failed. Nonetheless, it will now be the subject of negotiations between the two chambers and could be the subject of compromises and horse-trading. The bills vary on numerous issues, ranging from how to regulate deer farms, protection of pollinators, rules regarding pollution, and even how many fishing rods anglers can use.
Gov. Tim Walz, a hunter, doesn’t appear to have publicly stated a position. As of last month, he hadn’t made up his mind, saying only that he wanted a decision to be “thoughtful,” the Minnesota News Network reported. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan’s position wasn’t easily discernible Tuesday, although many suspect that she would support a ban on a wolf hunt, based on her past record as a state lawmaker. She’s also a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, and American Indian groups have generally been united in opposition to wolf hunting and trapping.
A request for clarification on Walz’s and Flanagan’s position from their office wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.