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Legislators Give Wolves a Break
by Amy Radil
March 15, 2000
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Wolf advocates won a victory in the Minnesota Senate, which voted more than two-to-one to pass a bill granting strong protections to wolves statewide. The Legislature must pass a management plan to take effect when wolves are removed from the federal endangered-species list and returned to state control. The vote sets the stage for House-Senate negotiations, and creates a wide gulf between the two chambers, since the House passed a bill allowing wolf hunting and trapping.

The Future of the Wolf- A Mainstreet Radio special.

MPR's Mainstreet Radio held a discussion on March 14th in Bemidji on proposals before the Legislature to regulate the wolf population. Listen

Katherine Lanpher talked in January to those involved in a compromise proposal to manage the gray wolf population. Listen

THE SENATE VOTE revives the so-called "roundtable" bill created in a collaboration between animal-rights advocates and hunting and farming groups last year. The bill largely preserves wolf protections in the state, but allows landowners to shoot wolves caught attacking domestic animals. Livestock owners later withdrew their support, saying they need more discretion to shoot problem wolves. This year the Department of Natural Resources offered a new compromise plan intended to placate agriculture and livestock interests. It would allow landowners to shoot wolves on their property, or have the wolves trapped, in the southern two-thirds of the state. The new proposal seemed to have the support of many legislators, so the roundtable bill's reappearance offended some rural lawmakers.

DFL Senator Bob Lessard of International Falls, who supports wolf hunting and trapping,says even his support for the new compromise bill is a stretch, since northern Minnesota ranchers and farmers say it won't help them. "The Department of Natural Resources, I do not agree with even what they came forward with but I said 'okay, we can live with this,'" Lessard said.

DFL Senator Leroy Stumpf of Thief River Falls planned to introduce the new DNR plan but never got the chance. He says the compromise plan takes a middle-of-the-road approach less likely to provoke lawsuits by livestock growers.

Some lawmakers say the more wolf-friendly bill was adopted to create room for discussion with the House in conference committee. The House bill allows a hunting season for wolves, something DNR Deputy Commissioner Steve Morse says will be a problem in negotiations. "Clearly the statewide hunting included in the House bill are things that's going to have to be worked on," he said.

With the House and Senate at opposite ends of the spectrum, Morse says the new DNR plan could become a logical compromise.

In order for the wolf to be removed from the endangered-species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must be convinced the state plan is sound and won't drastically reduce the wolf population. Environmentalists want the wolf delisted in order to show the Endangered Species Act can really bring animals back from the brink. Landowners want the wolf delisted so federal restrictions can be relaxed.

Republican Gary Laidig of Stillwater, who sponsored the roundtable bill, says he's been reminding lawmakers to keep their focus on the goal they share: returning the wolf to state control. "Once the House understands that state management is the result of delisting and delisting is the result of a complicated, narrow federal process I think we're going to make some progress," Laidig said.