Against the steadfast opposition of American Indians in the state, Minnesota will hold its first managed wolf hunting and trapping season this fall. As a result, a cultural clash is brewing between state officials and Indians, who revere wolves.
"The wolf is part of our creation story, and therefore many Ojibwe have a strong spiritual connection to the wolf,” Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, wrote in a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) this spring, according to the Star Tribune. "Many Ojibwe believe the fate of the wolf is closely tied to the fate of all the Ojibwe. For these reasons the Fond du Lac Band feels the hunting and trapping of wolves is inappropriate.''
On December 21, 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that gray wolf populations in the Great Lakes region had recovered and no longer required the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a final rule in the Federal Register removing wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in portions of adjoining states, from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. The rule removing ESA protection for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes became effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Wolves total more than 4,000 animals in the three core recovery states in the western Great Lakes area and have exceeded USFWS recovery goals. Minnesota's population is estimated at 2,921 wolves, while an estimated 687 wolves live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and another 782 in Wisconsin. Each state, with tribal consultation, was supposed to develop a plan to manage wolves after federal protection was removed.
Steve Mortensen of the Leech Lake Band's Division of Resource Management noted that once the wolf was removed from the ESA protection, its management returned to the state and tribes. But he told the Star Tribune that the state hasn't discussed its wolf management plan with bands.
"How can you ignore governments that have co-management authority of much of the wolf range and come up with a plan without their input?'' he asked.
With a healthy, delisted wolf population, though, many in Minnesota support a limited hunting and trapping season, and this spring the state legislature authorized the hunt on the recommendation of the DNR.
"We understand wolves to be educators, teaching us about hunting and working together in extended family units,'' said James Zorn, executive administrator for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which represents 11 Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The commission opposes wolf hunts. "Wolves exemplify perseverance, guardianship, intelligence and wisdom,'' Zorn said.
Ed Boggess, DNR fish and wildlife division director, told the Star Tribune the agency has tried to be inclusive and has had discussions with bands about its wolf management plans. He said that the delisting returned whatever authority the bands and state originally had but that it didn't convey new co-management authority to the bands. He also spoke to the issue of tribal cultural concerns.
"We recognize and respect those cultural views, but when it comes to managing wildlife, under these treaties and rights that were conveyed, all we can deal with are issues of conservation, public safety and public health,'' Boggess told the Star Tribune. "Cultural issues are for each culture to address as they see fit.''
That doesn’t sit well in Indian country.
"There is considerable concern about taking wolves for sport,'' Mortensen wrote to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "Many tribal members feel that wolves are their brothers and they should be respected as such.”
Look for continued pressure to stop the wolf hunt from Indian country this summer as Minnesota’s plans develop.