Maureen Hackett: The gray wolf should not be hunted

Pioneer Press published op-ed by Dr. Maureen Hackett:

As our state's new "Only in Minnesota" tourism campaign points out, there are many things that people can experience only in Minnesota: our 10,000 lakes, the largest indoor mall in the United States and our beautiful Northwoods. Something else that Minnesota has, unlike any other state in the lower 48 (and most of the world), is the last original gray wolf population. There are some things that once they are gone, all the money in the world cannot bring back. An extinct species belongs on the list of things money cannot buy.

The gray wolf is native to our state and has always lived here. People travel from out of state and out of country to see and experience our Northwoods, knowing that we have a wolf population.

The gray wolf is special. It's a vital part of our ecosystem and our culture. Many Native American tribes in Minnesota hold a sacred cultural role for the wolf.

The Minnesota gray wolf population has also defied the odds and is a survivor. Wolves were removed from the endangered species list, which is remarkable because many animals on this list never get off. Instead, they become extinct. But our wolves' fate can change again and may already be changing by what is happening to them in Minnesota today.

The same year the wolf was removed from the endangered species list (2012) the Minnesota gray wolf was hunted and trapped for recreational purposes. Can you think of another animal that went from an endangered species list to a recreational hunt? Could you imagine hunting, for entertainment, a bald eagle? Not many animals make it off the endangered species list alive, but the wolf did and we have not made the changes that address many sources of the wolf's near demise.

There are several misconceptions that are important to clear up. Here are the facts:

The hunt is not in place for population management, and is solely a recreational activity, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In fact, by law wolves can already be killed in many circumstances. A recreational hunt kills random wolves in the wild -- not those in conflict with farmers.

The wolf hunt is unpopular. In the DNR's 2012 survey, 80 percent did not support the wolf hunt.

A formal public comment period required by DNR rulemaking and even written into law has never taken place, but the wolf hunt was instated. The DNR rushed the hunt without even a baseline population survey. This is why lawmakers and the governor are the only source for making our wolf plan one that wolves can live with.

The state needs to slow down, suspend the hunt and take the time to complete the entire vital process to make sure our legislators hear from their constituents on the issue. A recreational hunt with trapping and snaring is not what most people wanted. But legislators are the only ones who can suspend it and stop the indiscriminate methods.

It's time that the DNR, the Legislature and others take the time to focus on something that is important to the state of Minnesota and its residents. We have this unique, wild and original species. We can show our visitors that Minnesota is a special place because we are good stewards for the wolf. Visitors, as well as Minnesotans, can know that we treat the wolf with awe and respect and can truly say, "Only in Minnesota."

Maureen Hackett is president and founder of Howling For Wolves.

May 8, 2014