Minnesota may see wolf populations on the rise this year, as the state just voted to ban recreational wolf hunting. The ban just barely passed in the Minnesota House of Representatives, with the final vote being 66-65, Minnesota Public Radio reported. However, the ban has not yet become law, so Minnesotans will have to wait and see how things shake out.
The bill was introduced as part of an environmental financing bill, which also got enough votes to move forward on Tuesday, Minnesota Public Radio noted. Rep. Peter Fischer of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, who introduced the bill, argued that wolves are too important to the Native American tribes of the state to let people hunt them recreationally — but that farmers would still be permitted to "protect their livestock," aka shoot wolves should they feel the animals are threatening the animals they use for meat. “This bill would still allow trapping of the wolves, it would also allow hunting of selected wolves that were causing issues within agriculture communities," Fischer told Minnesota Public Radio.
The results of the vote were perhaps unexpected for the state, because Minnesota was actually the first state to institute a wolf hunting season back in 2011, after the practice had been illegal in the contiguous U.S. for decades. The gray wolf has been classified as endangered since 1978 — except in Minnesota, where gray wolves were only threatened, not endangered, NPR noted. But in 2014, the practice was made illegal again, the Center for Biological Diversity explained.
Minnesota has not had a wolf hunting season since 2014; however, in May 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the gray wolf no longer needs to be on the endangered list, due to the species making "one of the greatest comebacks for an animal in U.S. conservation history." That means the wolf is no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the wolf's fate is in the hands of states and tribes.
Interestingly, some experts in the field believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is a Federal agency under the Trump administration, took gray wolves off of the endangered list too soon. “This disgusting proposal would be a death sentence for gray wolves across the country,” Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity said after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's intent to strip the gray wolf's protection. “The Trump administration is dead set on appeasing special interests that want to kill wolves. We’re working hard to stop them.”
The issue of gray wolf protection has been a hot-button one in the U.S. for decades — and that debate continued in the Minnesota House on Tuesday. As the Minnesota Public Radio reported, the conversation between Representatives got pretty heated. Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski explained to the room that he believes wolves are a danger to other wild animals, livestock, domestic animals, and even children, and that they should be hunted. Rep. Rick Hansen, of the House Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, is a hunter himself — but he told the crowd that he would be voting in favor of the wolf-hunting ban, according to Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
Luckily for wolves, the ban on recreational wolf hunting passed in the end — but it still needs to pass through the Senate before it becomes law.