The state pays farmers when wolves kill livestock, but state Agriculture Department officials said that fund has been depleted. "As the wolf population has expanded and recovered, the number of farms experiencing (livestock) depredation has increased," Blane White of the department told the House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee.
Some told the panel that the federal judge erred in forcing Minnesota to stop its hunting and trapping seasons. "Minnesota has far exceeded the objectives of the (wolf) recovery program, yet that wasn't deemed good enough," Doug Busselman of the Minnesota Farm Bureau testified.
The comments came while the committee received an update about federal judge's decision that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was "arbitrary and capricious" in removing the wolf from the endangered species list in the western Great Lakes region. The ruling in December restored wolves to federal protection in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. The federal ruling means that the three states cannot allow hunting seasons and forbids people from shooting wolves that are threatening livestock or pets.
Committee Chairman Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, did not allow wolf supporters to speak at the committee hearing, but suggested that committee members read their written testimony. The committee took no action, and there is little it can do because the federal government takes priority.
Minnesota has allowed wolf hunting and trapping three years.
Dan Stark of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources told the committee that last winter, the state counted 2,423 wolves, about 200 more than the previous year. The state's goal has been to keep 1,600 wolves, nearly all in the north. "The wolf population in Minnesota has totally recovered," Stark said.
The wolf was removed from the endangered species list in 2012, prompting the state to launch a hunting and trapping season. In the last hunting season, 15,000 people applied for licenses and 330 were awarded. The DNR reports 272 wolves were killed by hunters and trappers last year.
Blane said wolves are doing so well in the state that they are moving to the south and west from their traditional northeastern Minnesota home. That puts them in livestock territory. "Now, you really are at risk," Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said about farmers who before the December court ruling could protect livestock by shooting wolves. "Any livestock in the area is vulnerable to wolf attack," Blane added.
The federal government is considering appealing the court ruling.