Gerald Tyler lives up at Ely, northern Minnesota, a town of about 3,500 people just shy of the Canadian border. It’s wilderness country, canoe country, and, most controversially, wolf country.
Tyler is a retired property developer who put himself through law school, but never really practiced as a lawyer. A few years ago, he and a friend, Minnesotan cattle rancher Dale Lueck, began agitating for a wolf hunt. Tyler says he and Lueck were worried about the number of wolf attacks on cattle and domestic dogs and feared there could be an attack on humans.
Tyler began a long and complicated lawsuit in 2009 against the US Fish and Wildlife service, arguing the wolf population had recovered from historical lows and needed to be controlled. It was a stop-start affair and along the way gained the support of powerful groups like the National Rifle Association and the hunting group Safari Club International. It ended with the wolf being removed from federal protections and returned to state management. And now, for the first time in 40 years, there will be a wolf hunt in Minnesota.
The grey wolf (Canis lupus) was almost totally wiped out in the lower 48 states by hunting and habitat disruption and has been protected since the early 1970s. Numbers got down to just few hundred with the last sustainable surviving group found in northern Minnesota. (Wolves are hard to count, as they move around, but the state’s Department of Natural Resources says there are currently up to 3000.)
The wolves are likely to be hunted in three states across the western Great Lakes area — Minnesota and Wisconsin have hunts this year, starting in November and October respectively, while Michigan is considering legislation for a wolf hunt in the upper peninsula. In Wisconsin more that 13,000 hunters have applied to kill 201 wolves and In Minnesota 400 wolves will be killed through shooting, bow and arrow, and trapping.
Make the drive from the twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, up to Ely, and you’ll see the growing opposition to the hunt. Billboards punctuate the freeway with pictures of wolves caught in steel traps.
Hunt opponents say the timber wolf, as it’s commonly known, holds a special place in the area’s collective imagination. It’s the name of Minnesota’s professional basketball team, and, in a recent survey conducted by the state’s government, 79 per cent of respondents didn’t support hunting and trapping.
The group Howling for Wolves is leading the opposition and currently petitioning the state governor to stop the season. Dr Maureen Hackett, a former military psychiatrist, heads the group, and says the wolf is “a legacy species” that should pass onto the next generation.
She also argues that the hunt is primarily for sport, not for the protection of cattle — a claim Tyler rejects.
“There is no need for a public wolf hunt, it is for sport and it will recklessly endanger our wolves,” Hackett says.
“To even suggest and advocate using a public and random wolf hunt to assist with livestock problems is irresponsible, misguided and purposefully misleading.”
At this stage, the Minnesota hunt will start on November 3.