Wolf claims on record pace

Grand Rapids, Minn. – A combination of several factors, likely
including an early spring and fewer deer in the north, has made the
north woods’ wolves turn elsewhere for food. More often this
spring, that’s been area beef cattle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services reports
that wolf depredation claims are on a record pace this year, and
claim amounts already likely have exceeded the former record high
in 2008.

John Hart, Wildlife Services district supervisor in Grand
Rapids, said to date in 2010 there have been 111 complaints about
federally protected wolves, 49 of which have been verified as
wolves killing or wounding domestic animals. Of those 49, five were
related to domestic dogs being killed or wounded by wolves.

In 2009, there were 211 total complaints received; 97 were

Hart called the month of April “one of the busiest” he’s had in
dealing with wolf depredation. To date, 77 depredating wolves have
been killed by Wildlife Services “which is way ahead of schedule,”
he said.

Last year, nearly 200 wolves were killed by the federal agency
as a result of depredation complaints; that number has averaged
about 150 annually during the past half decade.

“Our workload usually cranks up in April,” Hart said. “This
year, it was a month early.”

That early start to spring – and the wolf depredation season –
was partly to blame for this year’s spike in wolf-related
incidents, he said.

With a mild winter in much of the north, white-tailed deer
finished strong; weaker deer are easier prey, he said.

Hart said there’s typically a window between the end of winter
and the fawning season during which forage is hard to come by for
wolves. This year’s early spring just lengthened that period of
limited forage, increasing the chances wolves would seek out
domestic food sources.

“We’ve seen a spike in livestock depredation (this year),” he

Further, deer numbers have declined in the north during past
years because of more liberal hunting and – prior to last winter –
greater winter severity.

“During the years with lots of deer, wolves were having lots of
pups. Suddenly, there are fewer deer on the landscape,” Hart said,
adding that predators typically lag behind prey in population
trends. There currently area about 3,000 wolves in the state.

As fawns are born, wolf depredation on livestock typically
declines, but only temporarily.

“We generally see a minor slowdown in wolf damage in early to
mid-June each year that we have attributed to all the new deer
fawns on the landscape,” Hart said. “Wolf damage typically picks up
again by early July and continues through the fall with a spike in
wolf damage generally occurring from mid-July through early

“During late summer, wolf packs have high nutritional needs,
which coincides with large numbers of cattle available to them on
summer pastures,” he said in an e-mail response.

Of the verified wolf complaints last year, according to Wildlife
Services’ annual report, 69 involved cattle, followed by 13 dog
incidents, seven involving sheep, six “others,” including a donkey,
and one regarding “human health and safety.”

The owners of livestock killed by wolves are eligible for
compensation from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. No
compensation currently is paid for pets killed or wounded by wolves
in Minnesota. No compensation is paid for livestock that are
wounded, unless the injuries are so severe the animal needs to be

The top three counties in terms of verified wolf depredations in
2009 were Cass County (15), Itasca County (13), and Beltrami County
(11). Pine and Carlton counties both had eight verified

Dan Stark, wolf specialist for the Minnesota DNR, said typically
$75,000 is allocated for wolf depredation complaints in the state;
another $75,000 is allocated for elk depredation, and often much of
that is used for wolf claims. Further, the federal government has
made available $100,000 in matching funds for state wolf
depredation payments.

Closer encounters

Procedures for dealing with “problem” wolves have changed
recently for Wildlife Services, and they were prompted, in part, by
wolf encounters near the town of Ely, located in the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service’s Zone 1, the far northeast corner of the

There’s little livestock production in that corner of the state,
so wolves aren’t taken there for depredation, unless that
depredation also represents a threat to human safety.

Wolves can be shot in Zone 1 if Wildlife Services determines a
“demonstrable but non-immediate threat to human safety.” Prior to
an April federal “subpermit,” Wildlife Services needed to obtain
authorization to take wolves threatening human safety. Now,
officials can kill wolves that are deemed a threat, then report the
situation to the USFWS.

Hart originally requested the subpermit for Zone 1, and the Ely
area, but the permit was issued for all of the state’s wolf

“In that Ely area, there’s been an increase in wolf-human
interactions,” Hart said. “Pets have been killed, and there have
been cases of people having to throw rocks at wolves to scare them
away. And there have been wolves reported in yards for up to 45

“The frequency of bolder wolf behavior is increasing, and it’s
not just in the Ely area, but across the state,” he said.

The subpermit allows for the take of wolves because of a threat
to human safety, up to 25 animals, though that number can be
adjusted, if necessary. This year, one wolf has been taken, near
Ely, under the subpermit, Hart said.

The “human safety” element is fairly new in terms of lethal wolf

“There’s not a lot of history (of) taking wolves for human
safety,” Hart said.

One wolf has been killed this year – in the Ely area – under the

“It was the culmination of a lot of situations of dogs being
killed,” Hart said. “Wolves were hanging around town, and people
concerned for their own safety.”

Following suits

There’s still plenty going on in agency offices and courtrooms
regarding wolves.

In a couple weeks, the USFWS will make a ruling on the state of
Minnesota’s petition requesting wolves be removed from the federal
endangered species list. Stark said the USFWS could reject the
petition, in which case the DNR could appeal that decision.

Or, the USFWS could confirm the petition contains “substantial
information” and begin a year-long process toward possible
delisting that follows such a ruling.

Meanwhile, Minnesotans Gerald Tyler and Dale Lueck have sued the
Department of the Interior/USFWS regarding wolves.

Lueck, in an e-mail, said he’s a plaintiff “on behalf of
Minnesota cattlemen, hunters, trappers, pet owners, and state

According to the lawsuit, the gray wolf population has recovered
in the western Great Lakes region. “As mandated by the Endangered
Species Act, wolves within the western Great Lakes (distinct
population segment) should be removed from the endangered and
threatened list under the Endangered Species Act.”

The federal recovery goal in Minnesota is 1,250 to 1,400 wolves.
For Wisconsin and Michigan, it’s a combined population of 100; both
state now boast more than 500 wolves.

More recently, members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation
sent a letter to the USFWS, asking that wolf delisting occur once

Wolves were delisted for an 18-month period from 2007-08, were
relisted, then delisted again last year, but only for about two
months, before they were returned to the endangered species

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