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A Wolf Revival at Capitol
by Amy Radil
April 19, 2000
Part of MPR's coverage of Session 2000
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The Minnesota Senate revived last week's failed wolf-management bill and passed it Tuesday along with a funding increase for the Department of Natural Resources. The measure included the hunting and fishing license fee increase already approved by the House, and $25 million a year for the DNR from sales taxes on lottery tickets. The bill now returns to the House, where House members say lead budget negotiators will have to decide if $25 million for the DNR fits their funding priorities..

Senator Jane Krenz says language was also added to apply regular game and fish laws to wolves so people can't shoot them from cars, for example, or with the help of spotlights.
LAST WEEK the Senate returned the wolf-management bill to a House-Senate conference committee, saying it needed more precise language about when landowners would be allowed to shoot wolves. But House members refused to return to the negotiating table, essentially killing the measure for this year. Most Senators wanted to pass a plan, so a group worked on the bill over the weekend and brought it back to the Senate floor where it passed with little debate.

DFL Senator Jane Krentz of May Township attributes the support in part to the minor changes made in its language, to clarify that landowners can only shoot wolves on their own property, and can only set traps for one mile outside the property line.

"This clearly says you must be on the land that you own, lease or manage or within a mile for trapping and the reason we went with the mile for trapping is because if there's a forest near the farm and the wolves are going to be hanging out near the forest you'd want to reasonably go a little space off the farm to do it." Krentz said.

Krenz says language was also added to apply regular game and fish laws to wolves so people can't shoot them from cars, for example, or with the help of spotlights. But the bill is largely unchanged. It would divide the state into two zones, granting landowners more leeway in the southern zone and creating more protections for wolves in the northern zone. Krentz combined the wolf plan with a bill to provide funding for the DNR. "There's money for parks which we don't want to see closed this spring and fall in the shoulder season, it's money for trails, it's money for state and metro parks and it's money for the game and fish fund which folks if we don't do something to address that concern this year we will be having some serious problems," says Krentz, who argued it would force reluctant House members to discuss funding she believes is needed.

The wolf bill's revival went against the wishes of its sponsor, Republican Senator Gary Laidig of Stillwater. He says the bill changed during conference committee negotiations and became too extreme, allowing for indiscriminate killing of wolves. He protested Krentz' bundling of the wolf bill with a DNR funding measure enjoying wide support. "I will do everything I can to insure that a plan will work and a plan will succeed," he said during floor debate. "You, senator, will not force me to vote for an amendment because I agree with fee increases for fishing and hunting and licenses in exchange for an inferior wolf plan."

Despite Laidig's objections the wolf provisions passed easily 38-24. DFL Senator Bob Lessard of International Falls supports sport hunting of wolves which wasn't included in the bill, but he's pleased to see it progress so the wolf can be removed from the federal endangered species list and returned to state control. "I didn't get my hunting provision in there, but it's in the state's best interest to get it delisted," Lessard contends. "It'll stand the court challenge; I expect the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service to act expeditiously, and I also expect to get sued."

The bill now returns to the House. Republican Representative Tim Finseth of Angus, who sponsored the House version, says he doesn't expect the changes in language to be a barrier to passage.

The increase in hunting and fishing license fees is equally non-controversial. But the bill's $25 million in lottery sales taxes for the DNR is another matter. Supporters want the money to help the agency fill backlogs in personnel, maintenance and other projects. But the amount of money at stake means the bill will become another poker chip in the budget agreement yet to formed between the House, Senate and Governor Ventura.