Sunday, October 7, 2012

Panel debates ethics of Minnesota wolf hunt

Published October 06, 2012

A panel discussion on the looming Minnesota wolf hunt filled an auditorium Friday night at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune

A panel discussion on the looming Minnesota wolf hunt filled an auditorium Friday night at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The five-member panel, brought together by the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, talked about just that — the ethics of wolf hunting and the public policy put in place to allow it.

It was expected that passions would run high, but the two hours went by with hardly a raised voice. Most of the panel members are well acquainted, having spent time in St. Paul speaking to state legislators about hunting and animal issues.

Only one exchange nudged even close to acrimony as a wolf biologist, a wild-wolf advocate, the director of the state Humane Society, a director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and an outdoors writer, the News Tribune’s Sam Cook, gathered.

Mark Johnson of the deer hunting group asked Howard Goldman to stop using the phrase “recreational killing” when talking about wolves.

“I really take offense to that,” he said. “It’s a harvest.”

Goldman, in his opening statements, asked why state officials decided to implement a hunt immediately after wolf management was turned over to the state from federal regulators in January.
“What is the rush to have another hunt?” Goldman asked. “This is recreational killing, trophy hunts,” he said.“No more.”

The longtime protection of Minnesota’s wolves was transferred from federal groups to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR, with approval from Gov. Mark Dayton and the state Legislature, is overseeing the state’s first wolf hunting season, scheduled to open Nov. 3, as part of its management program for wolves.

The hunt has been met with opposition. On Thursday, state officials asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reject an attempt by animal welfare groups to block the hunt.

Panel participant Maureen Hackett said she founded Howling for Wolves to fight the hunting decision. At one time, the state had an agreement in place to wait five years once it took over management. Hackett said the dropping of that provision last year, “behind closed doors” in St. Paul, is just one example of how the public had little say on the wolf hunt.

“We really haven’t had a conversation on do we really value the wolf,” she said.

She said the wolf, along with other iconic Minnesota animals, is vital to the state’s eco-tourism business and that visitors will be repelled when they start seeing wolves strapped on the top of hunter’s cars.
“Hunting and trap
ping does not reduce the hatred of the wolf,” she said, repeating that a discussion needs to occur with plenty of public input on the hunting issue and how wolves are valued.
She said her reaction to those who equate wolves with any other animal hunted in the state can be countered and there should be a focus on making sure wolves aren’t taking livestock and people are compensated.

“What’s the harm in not killing an animal?” she asked.

The lawsuit contends that the DNR failed to allow due process on comments about the rules of the hunt and the overall conviction that the hunt will cause longtime damage to the state’s wolf population.

The DNR has said the proper process was followed leading up to the hunt and that the damage the groups fear isn’t based on fact.

It is estimated the wolf population in the state is at 3,000, probably the largest number in any state outside of Alaska. The DNR has said its management plan is conservative. With 6,000 hunting and trapping licenses issued, the hunt would end once 400 wolves were registered as killed. As many as 200 wolves have been killed this year over the taking of livestock.

The organizer of the panel said he asked the DNR to provide a representative but it declined, citing the presence of Hackett and the ongoing court battle.

L. David Mech has worked on wolf populations through the U.S. Geology Survey and the University of Minnesota. He said fears about the population of wolves need to be cleared up, much like arguments on both sides of the hunting issue.

He said that while Minnesota’s wolves have proved stubborn to grow in population compared to other areas of the country, the count of 3,000 is taken during the winter when populations are at the lowest of the year. He said wolf populations can double each year and the planned DNR hunt, along with natural deaths, won’t affect populations.

It’s one of many arguments Mech tried to clear up.

“Some people on both sides try to bolster their positions with misinformation,” he said, adding that a great amount of his current work is to dispel the myths.

Cook sees all sides of the issue as he reports for the News Tribune.

“The DNR ends up in the middle,” he said. Later, he said he doesn’t worry about the DNR mismanaging the population.

It comes down to ethics, Goldman and Hackett argued.

Goldman said the wolf is iconic. Hackett said it is revered in American Indian populations.
Johnson said some kind of management is needed and a hunt will satisfy the DNR’s goal to provide recreation for state residents and bolster the big business of hunting.

“You can’t do it by not doing anything,” Johnson said. “Management by man has to be part of the goal.”

The panel took questions from the audience. They took on the issue of public input, ethics, population trends and, specifically, the ethics in trapping.

Most on the panel said there were a lot of opportunities to comment on the hunt but mostly in committee hearings during the last legislative session. The DNR also offered a comment period on its Web site.

Hackett said she tried to testify but was told it wouldn’t serve a purpose because “I was told it was a done deal.”

The process drove her to start Howling for Wolves, she said.

She said the state should have worked on how to control depredation of livestock and not use it as an excuse to hold a hunt.

“I call it the count-kill charade,” she said.

Johnson said the emotions are getting in the way of hard facts considering management, calling opposition to wolf hunting part of an overall anti-hunting stance.

“I’m not forcing anyone to go out and hunt for wolves,” he said. “We need to take the emotions out of it.”

Goldman said it’s important to not count groups against the wolf hunt as anti-hunting altogether.
“We don’t operate on emotion,” he said. “In this instance, values play a vital role.”