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Federal trapper snares four timberwolves west of Wadena

Joyce and Joe Kovar, their children and grandchildren have all enjoyed the fawns which their penned deer have produced.1 / 3
Joe Kovar lost one of his three penned deer to timberwolves earlier this winter.2 / 3
A federal trapper has been removing timberwolves from the Joe and Joyce Kovar farm eight miles west of Wadena.3 / 3

Joe Kovar will tell you that he has nothing against timberwolves, he just does not want them in his deer pen.

The Deer Creek taxidermist and his wife, Joyce, who live on a 120-acre farm eight miles west of Wadena on County Road 52, know that they have had wolves for neighbors for the last 47 years. For the last eight years they have had penned deer on their farm, a herd they inherited from one of their sons. While they are expensive to keep, the deer produce one or two fawns in the spring. The Kovars' grandchildren, and other kids from the neighborhood, enjoy seeing them and feeding them dandelions.

The Kovars have also known for some time that their wolf problem has been growing. Their deer

hunting, which was once some of the best in the state, has dropped off badly. Several of their cats have disappeared. They have seen wolves in the daytime from their kitchen window.

The relationship took a dramatic turn a month ago when usually shy and reclusive predators killed one of the Kovars' three penned deer, an 8-year-old doe named Thumper.

What the Kovars believe happened is that the wolf pack riled the deer up so badly that Thumper either bolted, or was dragged, through a small hole in the eight-foot-high fence. The wolf pack killed her about 100 yards from the pen.

The Kovars notified conservation officer Greg Oldakowski who investigated and quickly confirmed that timberwolves, not brush wolves, had killed the doe. Because timberwolves are federally protected animals, the process of removing them as a threat is quite involved. The Kovars had to contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before a trapper came out to handle the situation. The federal trapper has caught four wolves with traps and snares and is still at the job.

"We have seen three of them out here in the field since Christmas. Talking to the neighbors, they have all seen them," Joe Kovar said. "These are timberwolves. These are the big ones."

Joe Kovar has worked under state guidelines the last eight years in managing his penned deer. A penned deer is considered a farm animal and they must be registered and inspected. Their pen also has to be inspected and is given a score. The Kovars do not have the option of simply releasing the deer. When one dies the Kovars must cut the head off and send it to the state of Minnesota to make sure it was disease-free.

"If you don't have them at the end of the year you have to come up with a reason, and a good one," Joe Kovar said. "You cannot release them into the wild."

The Kovars live near the Leaf River Bottoms -- which offer terrific habitat for deer -- and a good hunting ground for wolves. Kovar has done some checking and has found that one adult wolf kills an average of 17 deer a year. The wolf population in Minnesota is estimated at 3,000 but the federal people the Kovars have talked with have told them the figure is much higher.

"When you are starting to see them in the middle of the day and they aren't afraid of you they aren't that way, they are getting a little too friendly," Joe Kovar said.

The wolves that are trapped and destroyed are tanned or mounted and used for educational purposes.

Joe Kovar has a lot of respect for timberwolves and he does not want to see them eliminated completely but he sees problems ahead for livestock growers in all areas of the state where their numbers are too great.

"They are a marvelous animal," Joe Kovar said. "They do have a place in society just like everything else but it's just like everything else -- where would the deer be if they didn't have any natural predators, if there was no hunting season? They would destroy everything."

The Kovars have contacted State Representative Mark Murdock and State Senator Dan Skogen. Murdock has encouraged him to send a signed petition to him in St. Paul. The Kovars have drafted such a petition, which seeks to protect livestock, pets and children, although they know of no documented cases where wolves have attacked humans. According to Joyce Kovar, most of the signees on the petition have not hesitated for a moment.

The Kovars are hestitant now about letting their grandchildren play around the yard when they come to visit.

According to Joe Kovar, Murdock hopes to get the federal government to turn control of the timberwolves to the state. Joe Kovar has talked to federal people and trappers that agree too many wolves in one area can post a threat not only to deer, but also to livestock.

"They said it will happen when we start running out of deer," Joe Kovar said. "They are going to get braver and braver and braver."