Minnesota’s wolf population down from 2008
DULUTH -- A survey across Minnesota’s northern forest last winter showed the state has about 2,211 wolves, down some from the most recent survey in 2008.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced the revised estimate today after a winter-long survey taken by biologists and other wildlife experts.
The number is down about 710 from the state’s last major wolf count taken during the winter of 2007-2008 and comes on the heels of last autumn’s controversial wolf hunting and trapping seasons when 413 wolves were killed. They were the first regulated wolf seasons in Minnesota and the first sanctioned public killing of wolves since the 1960s. The hunt was allowed only after the wolf population had recovered enough to be taken off the federal endangered species list earlier in 2012.
Another 200 or so wolves were trapped and killed last year, as they are each year, under a government-sanctioned program that targets wolves near where livestock have been attacked.
The 2007-08 survey estimated that 2,200 to 3,500 wolves roamed over about 30,000 square miles across the northern third of Minnesota. That was down from the 2004 survey estimate of 2,300 to 3,700. The 1998 survey showed 2,000 to 3,000 wolves.
Although lower than the 2008 wolf population survey midpoint estimate of 2,921 wolves, the population exceeds the state’s minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal range of 1,251 to 1,400 animals.
“Results from the 2013 wolf survey continue to demonstrate that Minnesota’s wolf population is fully recovered from its once-threatened status and the population is responding naturally to the availability of deer, wolves’ primary food source,” said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist.
The survey doesn’t include wolf pups born this year, which will substantially increase the population, at least until humans and other factors begin to take their toll.
Critics of hunting and trapping in Minnesota say the low end of the population estimate could be too few wolves to sustain ongoing wolf killing. But supporters of wolf hunting and trapping say the survey shows the population remains robust under state management.
After a century of unrestricted shooting and trapping as a nuisance animal, Minnesota was believed to have fewer than 500 wolves, all in the Superior National Forest in northeastern counties, when the animal was first given federal protections in the 1970s.
Left alone, wolves gradually rebuilt their numbers and expanded their range, with Minnesota wolves also moving into Wisconsin and Michigan, which now have thriving populations.
Wolf numbers in the western Great Lakes reached the government’s official “recovered” level by the late 1990s, but it took more than a decade for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to overcome political and legal opposition to the move leaving wolves unprotected.
Lawsuits are pending that seek once again to place wolves back under protections of the Endangered Species Act, especially noting they have reached safe population levels in only a small fraction of their original range in the United States.