Two animal protection groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, seeking an injunction against wolf hunting and trapping in Minnesota this fall.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves say the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources failed to provide a formal opportunity for public comment on recently approved rules setting the details of the upcoming wolf hunting and trapping season.
The groups say that's a violation of the state's rulemaking requirement set in state statutes and that the hunt can't legally go forward until the DNR holds a formal public input process.
"The state rushed to issue wolf hunting and trapping rules without giving people a real chance to voice their opinions," Collette Adkins Giese, a Minneapolis-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement announcing the suit. "Especially considering the tremendous controversy around hunting and trapping of Minnesota's wolves, state officials should have followed the law carefully to make sure they fully understood how the public felt about their decision."
DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said the agency had not been served with the petition and couldn't comment on the legal action.
However, the DNR said in a news release that this year's wolf season "poses no biological or conservation threat to the wolf population."
"The DNR recognizes there is a wide range of opinions toward wolf hunting and trapping," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in the release, "but all Minnesotans should know the DNR's primary wolf management goal is to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf. The DNR's conservative approach to this first season is based on sound conservation science and principles."
The animal protection groups claim that lawmakers violated their own 2001 wolf management plan that called for a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting and trapping once the animals were taken off the federal endangered species list. Lawmakers this year opted to have a season immediately after the animals were de-listed.
Adkins Giese told the News Tribune that she expects the appeals court will make a decision on the temporary injunction before the wolf hunting season starts Nov. 3, but "the substantive decision on whether the DNR violated the law will take much longer, and we do not expect a ruling until sometime next year."
The long-term goal, she said, is to restore the original five-year moratorium.
Instead of offering a formal public comment period, the DNR offered an online survey before adopting the details of how wolves would be shot and trapped. More than 75 percent of the comments opposed killing wolves.
Minnesota's first wolf hunt in more than 40 years is scheduled to begin Nov. 3 with the opening of the deer firearms season. The DNR's rules provide that 6,000 licenses will be sold to kill up to 400 wolves. The lawsuit filed Tuesday asks the Minnesota Court of Appeals to prevent implementation of wolf hunting and trapping rules until the court can issue its final decision in the case.
There are about 3,000 wolves roaming the northern half of Minnesota after recovering under federal protections from fewer than 500 in the mid-1970s. Supporters of a hunt say it's time to cull their numbers. Opponents say targeted wolf trapping near where livestock and pets have been killed is enough to control wolf issues and that widespread sport hunting and trapping isn't necessary.
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