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MN2020 - Wolf Hunts: Why We Must Control Population Size
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Wolf Hunts: Why We Must Control Population Size

January 06, 2014 By Sarah Couser, Macalester College

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.

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  • Maureen Hackett, MD says:

    January 8, 2014 at 10:12 am

    This well-written commentary on the wolf hunt is based on the erroneous assumption that the wolf hunt was for population management purposes.  The wolf hunt was for recreational purposes.  This was stated in writing by the MN DNR in their response to the petition for rulemaking change that they wrote before the first wolf hunt in the fall of 2012.  The wolf population in MN was stable and not expanding in size or in territory without a hunt for 10 years from 1998-2008 prior to the first hunt.  Unfortunately, a baseline survey was not conducted prior to hunting wolves for recreational purposes for the first time ever. So it is unclear if the unexpected 25% drop in wolf numbers and the continuing decline in pack size that is occurring since measurements were started ( now 4.3 wolves per pack) after the first hunt was a consequence solely of the hunt or if it was due to the many other sources of deaths that wolves face.  We have no experience with hunting a social animal like the wolf where individuals in the social group of the pack matter.  If we ever have a problem with too many wolves we know one thing for certain: we are very capable of killing wolves.  We do not need a recreational hunt to do this and a recreational hunt seems to fuel a wolf hate which is a main reason for the wolf’s demise. Howling For Wolves continues to advocate for a suspension of the wolf hunt to more carefully assess the state’s wolf management which involves lightened state laws surrounding killing wolves that are perceived to be a threat and lightened poaching penalties along with all of the other challenges that wildlife face to survive in a changing climate.  Killing wolves by humans has consequences for several to many years to a wolf population that needs to be more carefully understood.  It is important that people understand the real purpose of the wolf hunt: recreation.

  • Mike Chutich says:

    January 10, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    Ms. Couser writes:  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.

    Preservation efforts by the states?  Seriously?  The states couldn’t wait to resume killing wolves.  Every state with a wolf population is killing wolves, with no pretense of doing it for the benefit of the wolves.  Minnesota rushed to start a wolf hunt, abandoning sound science along the way.  66% of Minnesotans oppose the trophy killing of wolves.  That is an important number to keep in mind.  Most of us view wolves as an asset to the state; seeing them killed for recreation is painful.  That is why we are working to stop this before more damage is done.  Special interests exert far too much influence over the DNR and the legislature.  Now is the time for the rest of us to be heard.

  • Lindi says:

    January 11, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Wolves manage their own populations according to the carrying capacity of the land. Wolves from MN dispersed into WI and MI due to necessity. The population of MN wolves in 1974 was 750 and in 2012 it was estimated at 3,000. In 38 years the population increased by 2,250 animals which is a modest rate of growth. The primary food source for wolves is deer and for several years we have had over one million deer vs. 3,000 (now less than 2,000) wolves. Do the math! More deer are killed in collisions with cars than by wolves (16/year per adult). Politicians have no business managing the MN wolf population. The only reason they are involved in the eradication of our wolves is that they want the Polymet Sulfide Mine to succeed in the BWCA and Lake Superior region. We don’t have a wolf problem in MN we have a politician problem! That is why we have elections thankfully!

    • Gerry says:

      April 18, 2014 at 8:28 am

      So when we have had a cabin just north of Virginia for 50 years, and I was born and raised up there and up until the year before the first wold hunt, had never seen a wolf despite hundreds of hours in the woods, then, in one year, family members and myself had multiple sightings within 1/4 mile of our cabin during the day, you can say it’s for recreation?  The one on the road a few hundred yards from our cabin, where there are multiple pets, middle of the day, had no fear.
      To everything there is a balance.  I believe there is a place for the wolf.  I also believe.there needs to be a control mechanism.

      In response to the 1,000,000 deer comment…more mis-information put out by people who don’t understand.  The state does have close to 1 million deer.  The LOWEST density and numbers are in wolf country.  I did do the math.  The area with the lowest number of deer in the sate (and also moose) has the highest number of wolves.  The true number is probably 100,000 to 150,000 deer in the area we are discussing and on a year like this with a tough winter, wolves will kill up to 25% of that number.  They will kill for fun and sport.