Survey shows state wolf count down 24 percent

St. Paul — The wolf population in the state is lower than it was in 2008, but DNR officials say they still plan to hold a wolf hunting and trapping season this fall and winter.

According to survey results released Tuesday, there are an estimated 2,211 wolves in the state, which is 710 fewer than the 2,921 estimated after a 2008 survey.

“Results from the 2013 wolf survey continue to demonstrate that Minnesota’s wolf population is fully recovered from its once threatened status and the population is responding naturally to the availability of deer, wolves’ primary food source,” Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist, said in a news release.

The state’s minimum goal for wolves is 1,600. The estimated population also is above the federal recovery goal range of 1,251 to 1,400 animals. The wolf range in Minnesota generally covers the forested portion of the state.

The range in this year’s population estimate is a low of 1,652 wolves to a high of 2,641 wolves.

“The population is doing well,” said John Erb, a DNR research biologist in Grand Rapids.

According to the survey, completed last winter, there are an estimated 438 wolf packs in the state. The average wolf pack territory size – about 62 square miles – increased by 13 percent. The reason, according to agency officials, likely is due to fewer deer per square mile. In the forested part of the state, the number of deer per square mile has fallen by 25 percent since 2008.

“They need to use more space to meet their needs,” Erb said.

There also was a 12-percent decrease in the average number of wolves per pack – from 4.9 to 4.3. Erb said that likely is a combination of reduced prey and the harvest of wolves in the two months before the mid-winter counts of wolf packs.

Hunters and trappers during the 2012-13 inaugural wolf season killed 413 animals.

DNR officials haven’t released details about this fall’s season, other than to say they intend to hold another. Last year’s season marked the first time the DNR has offered a managed wolf hunt in the state.

The season structure this year likely will be similar, Stark said, though the harvest target likely will be lower than last year’s target of 400.

Officials noted the wolf population survey occurred after the hunting and trapping season, but before pups are born. The birth of pups adds to the state’s population. According to the DNR, with an estimated 438 wolf packs in Minnesota, and an average litter size of six, as many as 2,600 wolves were added to the population when pups were born this spring.

“This is part of the annual population cycle for wolves in which many pups are born each spring and then the population declines through the rest of the year through various sources of mortality until the next whelping season the following spring,” Erb said.

Said Stark: “Following a moderately severe winter, conditions are good – or favorable – for wolves, and we would expect the wolf population to be doing pretty well going into next fall.”

Wolf season details, as well as application information for prospective hunters and trappers, will be available later this month.

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