Thursday, December 13, 2012

Student Take: Why I can't support MN's season on wolves

December 12, 2012

By Bridget Hart

Bridget Hart, from Bloomington, Minn., is a senior in kinesiology at Iowa State University.
For most of my life, I have been proud of Minnesota and the measures it has taken to protect the gray wolf from unnecessary predation. I was awed by the up-close encounters that the International Wolf Center in Ely offers to hundreds of visitors each year. But now Minnesota has abandoned that tradition of pride and respect in favor of something less honorable.

For the past month and a half, I have stood by and watched as headline after headline has been published regarding the wolf hunt. Now I feel I must say my piece.

The claim by the Department of Natural Resources that this wolf hunt is a gateway for educational research is a farce. I believe this for several reasons.

One reason is the rapid turnover in legislation that allowed this hunt to happen in the first place. Wolves had been off the endangered species list for a metaphorical minute before the call for hunting permits came to the DNR. Under previous legislation, the state was supposed to wait five years to even start thinking about having a hunt. But people pressed, and the legislation was changed. After a mere 11 months, wolf permits were raffled off in game-show fashion to several hundred "lucky" hunters, just in time for deer season.

Another reason is the obvious lack of data on the wolf population. This hunt is not a population-control mechanism; if it was, there'd be evidence stating that the wolf population is out of control. But there isn't. The data doesn't support such reasoning because there isn't any data. The DNR hasn't had accurate data on the wolf packs in Minnesota for over five years. Yet it claims that by taking wolf population data during the course of this hunt, it will have accurate results. That seems a little backwards to me.

I believe this hunt caters to game hunters, not livestock owners. These wolf-hunt permits have been raffled off not to livestock owners, who may have the largest claim on the basis of wolf predation, but to deer hunters. This suggests either that the hunters feel that wolves threaten their chance of killing the prize buck they want (an unlikely assumption), or that this is a trophy hunt meant to increase revenue to the DNR.

My claim is that the revenues of this wolf hunt will offset the compensations that the state of Minnesota has already doled out to livestock owners as a result of wolves preying on their property. I think the quota was merely a way to pacify the naturalists who abhor the idea of this hunt, and to quell the fear that we as a state were returning to the wolf eradication habits that endangered this species in the first place 40 years ago. The permit lottery was a festive way for the DNR to make some extra cash. They'll never reach the 400-wolf quota, right?

Then the numbers came in from the early season hunt: first 30, then 84, then finally 147 wolves ... none of which will affect the number of compensation claims that livestock owners file each year. I don't mean to paint a picture of a money-grubbing Department of Natural Resources. Every state department needs revenue, and the DNR receives its highest revenue from game hunters. It makes some kind of sense that this wolf hunt generates revenue for the department.

However, the steps that were taken following the removal of the wolf from the endangered species list leave me asking: Is it really the wolves' welfare you have in mind?