The Department of Natural Resources has contracted with a federal trapper to capture and radio-collar gray wolves in Red Lake Wildlife Management Area and adjacent lands in northwest Minnesota this winter as part of a routine wolf population estimate the DNR conducts every year.

The goal of the effort now underway is to collar four to six wolves in separate packs, said John Erb, wildlife research scientist for the DNR’s Forest Wildlife Populations and Research Group in Grand Rapids, Minn. The DNR uses data from the collared wolves to compile information on average pack size and average territory size, Erb said.

Working with USDA Wildlife Services, tribal agencies, DNR staff and other cooperators, the department aims to collar wolves in half a dozen parts of Minnesota, including areas near Red Lake WMA, Itasca State Park, Grand Rapids, International Falls and the Fond du Lac Reservation, Erb said.

“Collectively, we try to keep a bunch of wolves radio-collared to derive the data we need to come up with our population estimates,” Erb said. “Each of our study areas, we like to have somewhere between four and six packs.

“Six would be ideal — if catching wolves was only as easy as we want it to be -- so we take what we can get. Sometimes, you catch a couple that may turn out to be in the same pack, and so we generally aim for six radio-collars and hope that’s six packs, but sometimes it ends up being four packs, and sometimes we just have bad luck and only collar two.”

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John Erb, wildlife research scientist, DNR Forest Wildlife Populations and Research Group, Grand Rapids, Minn. (Photo/ Minnesota DNR)
John Erb, wildlife research scientist, DNR Forest Wildlife Populations and Research Group, Grand Rapids, Minn. (Photo/ Minnesota DNR)

Last year, DNR cooperators collared four to six gray wolves in the Red Lake WMA vicinity, but some of those either died or the collars quit working, Erb said. The collars take two to three GPS locations a day and transmit the data to DNR staff every four to six days, he said.

“I think we were down to just having one, maybe two, with one of them being an actual pack that the Red Lake reservation folks collared,” Erb said. “So, we’re hoping to get at least another four or so.”

The bulk of the collaring effort centers on Red Lake WMA, Erb said, but conceivably could extend as far east as Pine Island State Forest east of Minnesota Highway 72 and the Northome, Minn., area.

Headquartered at Norris Camp south of Roosevelt, Minn., Red Lake WMA covers 324,000 acres. DNR staff at Norris Camp also oversee an area that covers an additional 450,000 acres of public and private lands.

Minnesota’s estimated wolf population stands at about 2,700, a number that has held relatively steady in recent years, according to Erb. Results from this year’s population survey likely won’t be available until early to mid-summer, he said.

The DNR this year will update its wolf management plan with help from a new wolf plan advisory committee comprised of citizens with an interest in wolves. The DNR also plans to gather input through a public perception survey, a public comment period and open houses at area wildlife offices.

Drafted in 2001, the plan guides the state’s decisions about wolf regulations, population monitoring, management, damage control, education, research and other issues, according to the DNR website.

Wolves in the Great Lakes region of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have been under the protection of the Endangered Species Act since December 2014, when a federal judge siding with wolf advocacy groups removed the species from state control that had been in place since January 2012. Wolves now are federally classified as threatened in Minnesota and endangered elsewhere in the Great Lakes region.

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