Many Minnesota state parks are open to deer hunting during the November firearm season, which begs a question: Will wolf hunting be allowed in Minnesota state parks? The answer is yes and no.
When I asked the question of DNR Wildlife’s Steve Merchant, he directed me to pages 113-115 in the 2012 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook, which lists the state parks, state recreation areas and scientific and natural areas open to hunting and trapping. The rules governing these activities vary from unit to unit and may even vary within an individual state park. As a result, wolf hunting will be allowed in some parks, or portions of parks, and not in others.
Consider the North Shore’s 2,200-acre Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. On Page 115 the rules say, “approximately 50 acres in the far northern part of the park is open to public hunting but closed to trapping. See map for location.” The rest of the park is closed to wolf hunting, but will be open for a special firearms deer hunt. On page 86 of the handbook, I found the special deer hunt regulations for Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, where either-sex hunting permits are available. The only portion of the park closed to deer hunting is south and east of Highway 61,” which is the vicinity of the lighthouse, campgrounds and other park amenities.
Special firearm deer hunts will occur in five North Shore state parks. Wolf hunting will be allowed in portions of four parks—George H. Crosby Manitou, Split Rock Lighthouse, Temperance River and Tettegouche—where public hunting is allowed for all game. The same is true for other state parks and recreation areas within the wolf hunting zone.
State Scientific and Natural Areas, which are lands set aside to protect natural features, are also governed by a patchwork of rules related to hunting. You must consult the regulations handbook to determine where and what kind of hunting is allowed in various units. Trapping is also permitted on some SNAs.
Figuring out the details for wolf hunting in state parks, recreation areas and SNAs will likely be easier for hunters than it will be for the general public, many of whom may view these areas as de facto wildlife refuges. While the question of to hunt or not to hunt on these public lands was addressed prior to the state establishing a wolf hunting and trapping season, the inconsistencies in the related rules and policies are confusing at the very least.
The 2012 regulations handbook contains no information about the coming wolf hunting and trapping season other than a short note on Page 2 that further details about the season will be released this month. One detail we do know is hunters will be able to apply in groups of up to four individuals for wolf hunting tags. Unlike the moose hunt, where a group of hunters is allowed to kill one moose, each member of a wolf hunting group will be issued a license to kill a wolf. Merchant says this means if a group is picked, they can hunt together and each kill a wolf.
If one person in a deer hunting camp has a wolf tag, other hunters may assist the licensed wolf hunter, but only the licensed hunter may kill a wolf. This differs from the state’s long-standing deer hunting rule, where any member of the group who is afield may kill a deer and use the harvest tag of another group member. Hunters know this as party hunting. In order to shoot a wolf, you’ll need a valid wolf hunting license in your pocket.
Minnesota’s new wolf season is a work in progress, driven at this point more by a legislative mandate to start killing wolves as soon as possible rather than a wildlife management plan intended to make the best use of a limited and valuable natural resource. Very likely, it will take a few years before the dust settles and we figure out how best to manage wolves.
In the meantime, the details of the season will matter more to people than to the wolves, which have long survived in Minnesota in spite of human activities. For now, we are stuck with a harvest plan that continues the failed strategy begun in the western states of selling wolf tags to big game hunters. It’s a strategy intended to buy a few votes for northern lawmakers and placate those deer hunters who blame the big bad wolf when they don’t shoot a deer.
Unfortunately, if the deer season wolf hunt fails to satisfy participants—namely through a failure to kill what they regard as enough wolves—we may start down a slippery slope. Already some are clamoring to have more and cheaper wolf tags available for deer hunters, which is how the western states are coping with their failed hunting strategy. Even with more tags and longer seasons, western states are not killing enough wolves to satisfy politicians or their anti-wolf constituents.
While neither wolf advocates nor prospective wolf hunters want to hear it, trapping is the most effective and responsible way to harvest wolves in Minnesota. Trappers could target areas where wolves are causing problems and would be more likely to achieve sustainable harvest goals. Equally important, trappers would process and sell wolf pelts, thus ensuring the harvested animals are put to use. A trapping-based harvest strategy would likely please livestock owners and others who experience problems with wolves, but it might not buy many anti-wolf votes up north or pro-wolf votes in the metro. Unfortunately, those votes may matter more than a sound wolf management strategy, because the Minnesota wolf is a political animal.