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Hunters express opposition to proposed BWCAW deer hunt

A proposal to add an October firearms deer season in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has met stiff opposition. Much of that comes from hunters who already hunt the wilderness area during the regular November firearms season, Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers said.

More than 50 hunters turned out for a public meeting on the proposal in Tower on Wednesday night, said Tom Rusch, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager at Tower.

He characterized public sentiment about the hunt tersely: "Soundly opposed, no question about it."

Eleven hunters had turned out at a similar meeting Tuesday evening in Grand Rapids, and Rusch said most hunters had "strong opposition" to the hunt. Thirteen hunters turned out for the final meeting Thursday night in Duluth, and opposition to the hunt ran about 2-1.

"The opposition has nothing to do with 'This is my backyard and I don't want [the hunt],' " Charlie Cowden, who lives on the Echo Trail near Buyck and Crane Lake, said at the Duluth meeting. "The resource will not support this."

The deer population is not high enough to support both an early and a regular-season hunt, Cowden said.

Under the current proposal, the DNR would offer a nine-day firearms deer hunt in the western portion of the wilderness area that is part of deer permit area 115 near Tower and Ely. Up to 150 hunters would be selected in a lottery for the hunt, which would run from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. Minnesota's regular firearms deer season opens Nov. 7.

DNR wildlife officials estimate the hunter success rate would be 15 to 20 percent in the wilderness hunt, with up to 30 or 40 deer taken in an area that covers 535 square miles.

"It's not a biological issue," Rusch said. "It's social. We're not talking about decimating the deer herd."

Randy Willey of Carlton spoke in favor of the hunt at the Duluth meeting.

"I'm for hunter opportunity. Let's try this," said Willey, who is president of the Carlton County chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.

The MDHA, which represents 20,000 deer hunters statewide, originally proposed the idea for the BWCAW hunt. An initial proposal called for hunting in the BWCAW north and east of Ely, too, but that area was dropped after earlier opposition by Ely-area hunters.

Rusch said e-mail commentary on the hunt proposal echoed public testimony, running about 90 percent against the idea.

Stu Osthoff of Ely spoke in favor of the October wilderness hunt at Tower. He was an early supporter of the idea, although his thought was to hold the hunt in more remote portions of the wilderness rather than along its periphery.

"The bottom line is the periphery," Osthoff said in a telephone interview Thursday. "[Opponents] have very legitimate concerns about what I call 'double-gunning' the periphery of the BWCAW -- putting a firearms hunt into the BW before the regular-season hunt."

Osthoff said he understands those concerns. He, too, hunts the wilderness area during the regular November season.

"My motive was to expand opportunity for hunting," he said.

The final decision on the early Boundary Waters hunt will be made by DNR officials at their season-setting meeting in early June.

"The recommendation I'm going to send to St. Paul is that the hunt isn't supported here in the Northeast," said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager at Grand Rapids.

Lightfoot said he was surprised that the hunt was so strongly opposed.

"It's an additional [hunting] opportunity we thought would be valuable and would be wanted," he said. "It turns out there's an awful lot of negative interest in this, much more than I ever would have imagined. That's a little surprising, and it's a little disappointing that we're so territorial here."

Hunters may still weigh in on the issue by completing a survey on the DNR Web site at On the home page, look for "2009 hunting season changes input." Or e-mail Deadline is April 3.