New hunters’ rights group targets DNR wolf management

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has never enjoyed a high approval rating with many sportsmen and women. But the agency’s hands-off policy on the burgeoning gray wolf population in northern Minnesota only makes matters worse .

For years hunters concerned with the low number of whitetail deer and farmers concerned for their livestock have pleaded with the state to reconsider measures to better control the predators’ population.

Now a new hunters’ rights group has begun holding well-attended meetings across northern Minnesota, attracting the attention of the Star Tribune and other media outlets.

In a revolt against what it says is an overabundance of wolves in the North Woods, a group of deer hunters concerned about the scarcity of whitetails has formed a new hunters rights group eager to rock the boat on the politics of wolf management.

Still in its infancy, Hunters For Hunters will rally next week to build its membership with open-invitation meetings in International Falls, Carlton, Aurora and Coleraine. Subsequent meetings are scheduled in Bagley and Detroit Lakes. The group’s recent “wolf control” meeting in Squaw Lake — announced only eight days in advance — drew a crowd estimated at more than 200 people, including three state senators.

“The chairs were full, and the people were standing all around the sides,” said Sen. Steve Green, a Second District Republican who attended the meeting in Squaw Lake. “The interest is pretty obvious. There’s a lot of frustration. A lot of frustration.”

Dissatisfaction over the DNR’s new 10-year wolf management plan also factored into the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association refusal to participate in the traditional deer hunting opener this year with Gov. Tim Walz, who opposes wolf hunting.

While focusing first on wolf management, Hunters for Hunters’ website makes it clear the group intends to take aim at a range of outdoor issues and to defend Minnesota’s long-standing hunting tradition.

Hunters for Hunters is a watchdog organization dedicated to protecting the rights of hunters, landowners, and sportsmen in the State of Minnesota. We are a community of like-minded individuals who believe that hunting and outdoor activities are an important part of our heritage and culture. Our mission is to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same hunting opportunities that we have today.

The upstart group’s aggressive message may be directly aimed at the DNR and Walz. But it’s also ruffled feathers with at least one well-known hunting association focused on reducing the wolf population.

MDHA Executive Director Jared Mazurek said in an interview that the organization has been pushing the DNR for years to control wolf numbers. The group “100 percent” supports the Minnesota trigger bill, he said, and is working for passage of a federal bill that would delist wolves and return species management back to states. The trigger bill would authorize a wolf hunt in Minnesota as soon as the species loses federal protection.

A big part of HFH’s recruitment pitch is that no one is fighting for a wolf hunt. The group believes a hunt is needed.

“It’s a little discouraging to have a new group come in, throwing jabs at us,” Mazurek said. “We’re on the same side of the issue.

Minnesota allowed controlled hunting and trapping of gray wolves for three years under DFL Governor Mark Dayton. An estimated 900 wolves were harvested before the federal courts intervened once again, putting the predator under federal protection. Even so, the feds eliminate roughly 200 problem gray wolves that kill cattle and pets in Minnesota each year.

The DNR estimates the current population to be about 2,700, far more than any of the lower 48 states. But plenty of hunters and northern Minnesota residents don’t buy it.

Garth Albers of Wadena is president of the MDHA executive board. He said wolves eating deer has been a hot topic among his members since at least 1989, when he first joined the board.

Albers said hunters’ anguish over wolves has increased this year to where he’s hearing a lot of talk about boycotting next season’s hunt, blocking an important revenue stream to the DNR.

“All they’re seeing is wolves and wolf tracks,” he said.

Even the DNR might start paying attention if talk of a boycott of deer hunting season takes off.