Earlier this week, the Minnesota House of Representatives moved to preemptively ban all recreational hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the state, should the animals ever be removed from the federal Endangered Species List (ESL). The proposed ban was introduced during floor debate as a last-minute amendment to a large environmental spending bill. The bill passed in a 69-59 vote.

Under current laws, Minnesota does not have a wolf hunting or trapping season because wolves are still protected at the federal level. That’s likely to change, though, if the federal government decides to delist the species.

In its latest wolf management plan, updated late last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) laid out a framework for establishing wolf hunting and trapping seasons—if federal protections are ever lifted. That plan effectively opened the door for future wolf hunting in the Gopher State.

“The plan reflects [a] breadth of input,” said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist. “Information in the plan describes current knowledge of the wolf population, Minnesotans’ attitudes toward wolves, and guides the approach to the future conservation and management of wolves in Minnesota.”

In a statement provided to MPR News, an MDNR spokesperson said that the agency opposes the legislature’s recent attempt to ban wolf hunting and trapping. “In light of the robust, science-based plan we have in place, we do not support legislation that includes mandates or restricts the methods by which the Minnesota DNR manages wolves,” said MDNR Communications Director Gail Nosek. “Responsible fish and wildlife conservation requires that a full complement of management tools be available to the agency.”

More Wolves Than Any State in the Lower 48

According to MDNR population estimates, wolves are thriving in Minnesota. The state is currently home to about 2,700 wolves—nearly double the recovery goal set by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service more than three decades ago. In fact, there are more wolves in Minnesota than in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming combined. All three of those northern Rocky Mountain states have established wolf hunting and trapping seasons.

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Multiple Republican House members have spoken out in opposition to the proposed ban. “I’m appalled that this is on this table,” Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge, Minnesota told MPR News. “It’s dangerous for our citizens, dangerous for our pets, and dangerous for Minnesota.”

The Sportsmen’s Alliance, an Ohio-based non-profit that advocates for hunting, trapping, and shooting rights, is working to oppose the measure. They claim that anti-hunting special interest groups pushed the ban forward at the last minute with no input from the public. “Animal extremists are clearly attempting an end run of the legislative process to get this hunt ban in place,” the organization stated in a recent blog post. “[This would disregard] what the [Minnesota] Department of Natural Resources or sportsmen have to say about wolf management now or at any time in the future.”