Ft. Snelling, Minn. The federal wolf delisting process is
stalled, because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is
focused on wolf-related litigation. Ron Refschneider, USFWS Region
5 endangered species coordinator, says the agency is considering
reassigning staff to the delisting process so it may move
Wolves are managed by the federal government through the
auspices of the Endangered Species Act. Delisting could return wolf
management authority to the states.
Refschneider is working overtime to respond to lawsuits filed in
the Northeast and on the West Coast regarding the reclassification
of wolves, because court proceedings take the highest priority in
the USFWS. He projects that his time will continue to be devoted to
the litigation for the next couple of months. The USFWS had
intended to release a delisting proposal this summer. Refschneider
says that may still occur if the USFWS directs other staff to work
on the long-awaited proposal.
“We’re probably a couple years behind where we should be
already,” he says.
Minnesota, which has the largest wolf population in the Lower 48
states, is working on a new population survey, the first in five
years. John Erb, Minnesota DNR furbearer research biologist, says
the wolf survey collects detailed winter tracks and actual sighting
information from wildlife managers, conservation officers, and
foresters working in the field across the state’s wolf range.
Plotting this data on a map helps biologists determine wolf
distribution in the state.
Additional information is collected from radio-collared wolf
research projects, including the average pack size and the average
size of wolf pack territories. Computer simulations are used to
come up with a statewide population estimate.
Minnesota’s wolf population has been increasing since surveys
began in 1968. However, Erb thinks the wolf population and range
may have stabilized during the past five years, though he must wait
for the survey results to know for sure. In 1998, the Minnesota
wolf population was estimated at 2,450 wolves, with a confidence
interval of 2,000 to 3,000. Although the DNR intended to survey
wolves every 10 years, the interval will likely be every five years
in anticipation of meeting the delisting requirements.