Wolf Hunts: Why We Must Control Population Size
I consider myself a liberal environmentalist, but I need to be honest. I am not entirely opposed to a wolf hunt, which recently wrapped up a second Minnesota season.
Before 1970, wolves were seen as predators instead of majestic animals. The United States began to exterminate wolves all over the country, leading to heavy population declines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized how detrimental this extermination had been on the wolf population, and placed them on the Federal Endangered Species list in 1974.
Although wolf populations were dwindling across the country, the Minnesota population remained at a sustainable number, likely because “Minnesota contained the only known reproducing wolf population in the lower 48 states, except for that on Isle Royale,” according to Minnesota’s DNR.
Following the 1974 protection efforts, Minnesota’s Gray wolf population nearly tripled to an estimated 3,000 by 2008. (The most recent estimate puts the wolf population at 2,200.) The population in Wisconsin had grown from 25 to 800 wolves according to the Wisconsin DNR. Over the last 24 years, Michigan’s population has grown from 3 individuals to more than 650, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This population growth lead to the wolf being taken off the Federal Endangered Species list in 2012 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with more of the preservation efforts passing to states.
A number of policy makers believed an over abundant wolf population threatened residents, livestock, and other Minnesota wildlife. In 2012, Minnesota’s legislature passed a bill establishing a brief fall wolf-hunting season, with an initial harvest quota of 400 individuals. Ahead of the second season, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lowered the wolf-harvest to 220 individuals.
Wolf advocates support wolf protection because the wolves are beautiful and intelligent. The wolves are admired because they are strong and resilient, but these qualities are also why their growth over the last forty years has been so successful. Wolf activists claim that the wolves are key to supporting the diversity of the Minnesota landscape, but if their population is not controlled, their effect on diversity will become negative. If the wolf population becomes unmanageable, the deer population will decline and there will not be enough food to support the large wolf population. This will cause a sharp decline in the wolf population in addition to the sharp decline in the deer population.
Lack of deer could cause an overabundance in grasses and other plants, and could potentially result in insect and rodent population growth, setting off a cascade of other wildlife impacts.
To guarantee Minnesota wolf survival, the state has a goal of keeping the wolf population above 1,600 individuals, which is well above the Federal government suggestion of 1,251-1,400 individuals. Even with the 220 wolves that will be hunted this year and the 200 wolves that will be eliminated due to cases of property damage, the state of Minnesota will still have enough wolves to maintain a healthy population.
I am not a hunter. And I am certainly not a wolf hater. The Minnesota DNR data indicates, however, that the wolf population is too high to be sustainable. The fluctuations in wolf policies are not caused by the ignorance of our politicians, but by their hard work and diligence to protect and maintain the Minnesota wolf population.
Although the State and Federal Government have done much to protect the wolves, the main responsibility falls on the people of Minnesota. The awareness that the public has about wolf protection and control is remarkable. Public participation keeps the DNR, State, and Federal Government on their toes. The greater the public understanding of this issue, the better we will be able to control and protect the wolf populations in the future.
Understanding the importance of population control for this amazing species is imperative for the health and success of the species itself, as well as for the ecosystem that encompasses it.