By STEVE KARNOWSKI

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota officials on Wednesday welcoming the federal government's decision to drop the Great Lakes region's gray wolves from the endangered species next month and said the state might open a hunting and trapping season this fall.

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr told reporters agency is "ready and able" to take over management of Minnesota's wolf population from the federal government.

Minnesota has a stable population of about 3,000 wolves, mostly in northeastern Minnesota, but they range as far south as southern Pine County. The Interior Department said populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have recovered to the point where federal protections are no longer needed in the region.

"We should recognize this is a tremendous success for the Endangered Species Act. The population has always had a stronghold in Minnesota. We now have a strong population in three states," Landwehr said.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Minnesota has about double the number of wolves it should have, and they're killing livestock and pets, so it was time for them to come off the endangered list.

Klobuchar noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year removed 192 problem wolves in Minnesota due to predation. Wolves killed around 100 cows and sheep and 15 dogs in 2010, according to federal figures.

"It gets very emotional for people but ... the whole concept of the Endangered Species Act was to protect endangered species. And when they stop being endangered and they start attacking other animals then you have to bring the balance back, and that's what this is about," Klobuchar said.

Ed Boggess, the DNR's fish and wildlife director, said a wolf hunting and trapping season could begin as early as this fall, but details are still being worked out and it might take longer. Among the issues to be resolved are limits and harvest zones.

The DNR also hasn't decided yet what total harvest levels would be, but the agency likely will seek to keep wolf numbers above the state's minimum population goal of 1,600, said Dan Stark, the DNR's wolf management specialist. There will be a public comment period at some point.

"We can manage a season scientifically and sustainably for wolves that will help address population densities, conflicts with livestock, and we're preparing to do so," Boggess said.

Boggess noted that the state has already had two brief periods of managing its wolf population, before previous federal efforts to take the animals off the endangered list were blocked by the courts.

Some details still need to be worked out with the Legislature and other stakeholders, including how to pay for wolf control efforts that the federal government will no longer fund, the DNR officials said.

Stark said the state may need to use certified private predator controllers to supplement hunting and trapping.

"Having a wolf season alone, I don't think it's going to address all the depredation conflicts," Stark said. "We're still going to have livestock depredation that needs to be addressed in a different way."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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