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A gray wolf rests in the snow. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Opponents criticize hunting season on wolves

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The foes were identified by speaker after speaker who referred to a hunter-turned-prey as "brother wolf" Saturday.

Chief among the enemies of the animal - as defined by those who spoke at a protest against this year's wolf hunt - are the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

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"Hunting has changed more in the last 20 years than in the last 200," said Barry Babcock, co-founder of the Nishime Ma'iingan, or Brother Wolf, a group vehemently opposed to the hunt.

There were no dissenting voices among the crowd at Bemidji State's American Indian Resource Center.

"Some people just want a wolf pelt on the wall," said Al Pemberton, a Red Lake tribal council member. "I don't understand it."

Taken off the federal endangered species list in 2012, Babcock expressed his concern that wolves could end up back on the roll for at risk animals.

"There's a real possibility that one-third of our wolf population has been killed," he said.

All of Red Lake Indian Reservation has been set aside as a wolf preserve, but that doesn't protect the animals if and when they wander off tribal land. And if the travel habits of one wolf being tracked there are any indication, that's not very difficult to do - the animal has a territory of 130 square miles.

But the concerns for many in the Ojibwe community are less environmental and more spiritual.

"When you separate yourself from nature your heart gets hard," tribal elder Larry Stillday said. "This is an example of that."

Over 400 wolves were taken in 2012's hunt, but that number, Babcock said, does not include the amount killed either illegally or in protection of livestock.

Minnesota has an estimated wolf population of 3,000, according to the DNR.

"The creator gave us the wolf as a guardian," Stillday said. "Our brother needs us to speak for him. The wolf, our brother, is not a separate entity. The wolf, our brother, is inside of us."

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