By STEVE KARNOWSKI | Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Fewer wolves are being shot or trapped for predator control in Minnesota, wildlife managers told a legislative hearing Tuesday evening as they defended how they've handled the resumption of hunting since the predators came off the endangered list two years ago this week.
The number of wolves killed because they were preying on livestock or pets fell from 295 in 2012 to 127 last year, said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist with the Department of Natural Resources. He attributed the decline to the mild winter of 2011-12, not hunting. He said wolf depredation on livestock tends to increase during mild winters when it's harder for wolves to chase down deer.
He also said the total of verified complaints of wolves preying on livestock and pet dogs fell from 122 to 70 from 2012 to 2013.
Stark told a House environment panel the levels of predation conflicts probably hasn't been so low "since the about early 1990s, and so it's quite a bit lower than it's been in recent years."
Opponents of wolf hunting, who have tried without success to stop the hunt, denounced it as inhumane. They testified it threatens the species' long-term survival in Minnesota and disputed the idea that allowing recreational hunting and trapping is the most effective way to stop wolves from preying on livestock.
"There's only one reason for hunting wolves and that's for trophies and sport," said Howard Goldman, the state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Hunters and trappers killed 413 wolves in the state's inaugural season and 237 in the season that closed Dec. 28. The DNR is expected to announce its plans for 2014 later this year.
"We understand that people have the right to protect their livestock, they have the right to protect human life," said Maureen Hackett, founder of Howling for Wolves. But she said the state should focus on nonlethal control methods instead of "indiscriminate" methods such as snaring, which she said cause enormous suffering.
Stark also defended the DNR's estimates of Minnesota's wolf population, which it pegged at 2,211 as of last winter. The count was based on aerial surveys and other data, and is measured at the annual low point of the animal's population before the pups were born. He said the methods could always be improved, but that would cost more money.
Critics argued that uncertainty in the counting methods, a rough margin of error of plus or minus 500, meant the wolf population could have been as low as 1,652 last winter, which they said was dangerously close to the 1,600 minimum set by the DNR's management plan.
A five-year hunting-and-trapping moratorium narrowly passed a Senate committee last year but got no further. The proposal's prospects for advancing in the upcoming session are uncertain, but it faces opposition from influential lawmakers, hunters and farmers.
Tuesday's hearing was informational only, and no vote was taken.