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'We brought them back just to kill them?': Protesters in Duluth decry state's wolf hunt

DULUTH, Minn. - From her cabin on a dirt road 10 miles off the Gunflint Trail, it took Stephanie Johnson 3 1/2 hours to get to Duluth to join a rally against Minnesota's wolf hunt.

Stephanie Johnson, a resident of Kemo Lake
Stephanie Johnson, a resident of Kemo Lake, north of Grand Marais, holds a wolf painting she made as she protests the Minnesota wolf-hunting season Saturday morning at Lake Superior Plaza in downtown Duluth. (Clint Austin / Forum Communications)

DULUTH, Minn. - From her cabin on a dirt road 10 miles off the Gunflint Trail, it took Stephanie Johnson 3½ hours to get to Duluth to join a rally against Minnesota's wolf hunt.

It was worth the trip, Johnson said on Saturday, because she's passionately opposed to the hunt that began that morning.

"There's no reason except just pure killing for (hunting) these animals," said Johnson, one of about 35 people gathered late Saturday morning on the plaza at Lake Avenue and Superior Street to oppose the hunt. "We just brought them back from an endangered species, just to kill them?"

Johnson, a 64-year-old artist, was holding a wolf painting she'd created on 2 feet of barn board as she joined other protesters in chanting, "Stop the wolf hunt," and, "Trapping is torture."

A vegetarian, Johnson said she opposes all hunting, but she especially loathes the wolf hunt. Others at the rally, which was organized by the group Howling for Wolves, said their opposition was specific to hunting and trapping wolves.


Among them was Chris Oswood, who was holding one side of a banner with one hand and the leash to his mixed-breed shelter dog with the other. Oswood, of Barnum and Minneapolis, said he doesn't hunt but accepts other people hunting for food as a "necessary activity."

But he's uncompromising when it comes to the wolf hunt, saying it is done only for sport.

"I think it's an unconscionable behavior," Oswood said. "I think it's something that the DNR and the governor have allowed to happen with no legitimate reason."

The hunt is the first managed wolf hunt in state history. The gray wolf had been off limits to hunting since being placed on the federal endangered species list in 1974. The Obama administration removed the 4,000 gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan from the endangered list late last year, ceding wolf management to the states.

After the Minnesota Legislature authorized the Department of Natural Resources to act, the DNR set up two seasons. A late hunting and trapping season is to begin Nov. 24.

The DNR issued 3,600 wolf-hunting licenses by lottery, with a target harvest of 400 wolves. As of midafternoon on Saturday, seven wolves had been killed, according to the DNR website.

The protesters at Saturday's rally argued that the DNR acted hastily to set up a wolf season, that the wolf population is stable without a hunt and that public input was ignored. They frequently cited the DNR's online survey in which 80 percent of respondents said they opposed a wolf hunt.

That seemed to be borne out during the rally. As protesters chanted and displayed signs with slogans such as, "Real hunters don't kill wolves," motorists passing through the busy intersection frequently honked their horns in support. Only one person voiced a dissenting opinion during the hourlong event, a man who yelled, "Kill all the wolves," from a car as it passed by.


The group so far has failed in its efforts to stop Minnesota's wolf hunt through legal challenges. The Minnesota Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court earlier this fall rejected emergency motions for an injunction to stop the hunt. A lawsuit to stop the hunt continues, but any trial probably will take place after the upcoming season is over.

Although the hunt already was under way, Saturday's protest wasn't meaningless, said Maureen Hackett of Minnetonka, Minn., who founded Howling for Wolves. The hunt still can be ended early, she said.

"The governor could stop it," Hackett said. "The governor could stop it tomorrow, today. There is no reason to have this hunt."

Johnson, who has no electricity at the cabin where she has lived for about a dozen years, said she learned about Howling for Wolves earlier this year while visiting her daughter in Duluth. The issue resonates with her life in the north woods, she said. Although she knows she is in wolf territory, she and her dog have never been threatened.

"I hear the wolves, I see their footprints, I see their scat," Johnson said. "I've never seen a wolf. I've never had a problem with a wolf."

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