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Negotiators Reach Deal on Wolves
by Amy Radil
April 6, 2000
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A House-Senate conference committee found middle ground on managing the state's wolves Wednesday, which means the wolf could be on its way back to state control after more than two decades on the federal endangered species list. The committee's bill would provide more latitude to landowners to get rid of problem wolves, but would delay sport hunting and trapping at least five years.

MINNESOTA'S WOLVES have been a success story for the Endangered Species Act, but they have remained under federal jurisdiction while the state's legislators debate how to manage the recovered population. Legislators broke through to a compromise in conference committee, agreeing on a bill that expands shooting and trapping of wolves attacking livestock or pets. The bill does not include a sport hunting and trapping season, which had been a central provision in the House bill. Republican Representative Tim Finseth of Angus says the House conceded that point in order to see some progress.

"We realized the Senate was not going to accept it and we had to have a bill," he said. "The ultimate goal is to get the de-listing process going."

Finseth says many House members still support a hunting and trapping season but are willing to vote for the conference committee bill this year. "I think we'll have votes to pass the bill, I'm not too worried about that I guess, I think the members know that it's the right thing to do."

Some senators on the conference committee say they have strong reservations about the compromise bill, and could not commit to voting for it themselves when it returns to the Senate floor. DFL Senator Ellen Anderson of St. Paul was the lone vote against the conference committee bill. She says she wants to address landowners' concerns about wolf attacks on livestock, but a provision allowing landowners to shoot wolves on their property at any time goes too far.

"The biggest problem that I see is there's a provision in here that allows farmers to shoot wolves on sight in the agricultural zone and I just think that's unacceptable to Minnesotans," Anderson said.

The agricultural zone would include the southeastern two-thirds of the state. In that area landowners would have broad discretion to shoot or trap wolves. In the northern third of the state, based on wolves' historic range, wolves would retain more protections.

DFL Senator Becky Lourey of Kerrick protested that the division would create in effect "two Minnesotas," with different circumstances for neighboring farms. Of special concern were farms just over the line into the so-called "wolf zone," where they face more damage from wolves and more restrictions in addressing it.

But DNR Deputy Commissioner Steve Morse says the bill would allow trapping for wolves up to 60 days after a verified attack in that area, and will ultimately open the door for more stringent measures. "This bill gives them a lot of things they don't have now," he said. "That would be the directed predator control, some abilities to take wolves and to protect their livestock and if there's an immediate threat to protect their livestock by taking wolves. And probably more importantly than that, we believe it'll move the wolf through the delisting process, through the courts, and back into state control so in the future we'll have more options to deal with those people in those zones."

Legislators also tried to balance the bill to help it stand up in court. Wolf advocates especially oppose the provision allowing landowners to shoot wolves and have promised to fight the wolf's removal from the endangered-species list. The bill now goes to both chambers where lawmakers must vote it up or down without amendments.