ST. PAUL -- A new gray wolf management proposal released today wouldn't allow an open hunting and trapping season for at least five years.
It would, however, give farmers and ranchers more authority to defend their livestock and pets.
''A hunting provision wasn't specifically addressed as I would have liked, but it's a framework that I think we might be able to work with and satisfy the majority,'' said Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bob Lessard, DFL-International Falls.
The Department of Natural Resource's new plan would give farmers more leeway to shoot wolves that are threatening livestock or domestic pets.
The proposal makes a distinction between the protection of wolves within agricultural areas and those outside. Within the agricultural zone, landowners can kill wolves at any time to protect property.
''In the gray wolf zone, the benefit of the doubt goes somewhat to the wolf,'' Mike DonCarlos, a furbearer specialist with the DNR, said at a public meeting this morning. ''In the agricultural zone ... the benefit of the doubt goes somewhat to the farmer.''
That's where some environmentalists may have a problem.
''My concern is that gives carte blanche to kill wolves on sight,'' Ginny Yingling, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.
Outside agriculture areas, including much of the northern part of the state, wolves could be killed by ranchers if wolves posed an immediate threat to livestock. ''Immediate threat'' is defined as ''pursuing, attacking or killing livestock.''
Similar language was hotly debated last year in legislative committees.
Under current law, farmers may call in federal trappers to take a wolf only if it has already killed livestock. The new plan would allow the state to certify trappers that would operate in much the same way. The wolf would have to be turned in to the DNR.
The agency presented the plan today to a citizens' panel representing various sides of the issue who helped draft a failed wolf management proposal last year.
Even without knowing the details, wolf advocates were preparing a full attack.
''We're really geared up this time to fight it,'' said Karlyn Berg, who represents several groups including the U.S. Humane Society. ''We're going to take a firmer stand than we did last year.''
A national coalition has been formed to fight for the wolf's protection, she said.
''Last year, we didn't lobby,'' she said. ''We let the Legislature have a lot of rope. We waited it out. This year -- no deals.''
Currently, gray wolves are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Wolf activists want them to remain that way, but under federal law, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must remove a species from protected status and return management to states once the animal has been brought back from the brink of extinction.
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