Thoughts on new wolf plan? Speak now

By Tim Spielman
Editor

St. Paul — Minnesotans interested in offering final remarks and suggestions regarding the DNR’s new wolf plan, released in draft form last week, will have chances to do so via a “webinar” scheduled for July 13 at 6 p.m., and a public comment period that will expire at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 8.

The 50-page draft version of the plan is the culmination of more than two years of effort, including surveys, advisory and technical committee meetings, public input, and more. It’s intended to update the wolf plan finalized in 2001.

The goal: “To continue to support a healthy wolf population” in the state, according to Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR. He said the 2022 plan addresses new information regarding wolves that’s been uncovered in the past two decades, as well as public attitudes about the often controversial species that’s currently protected in the Midwest under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Groups ranging from representatives of livestock owners to wolf protectionist organizations have had a mostly muted reaction to the draft plan. John Zanmiller, the Bluffland Whitetails Association’s director of community and government affairs, said that, upon his review, the draft plan addresses wolf management, while acknowledging the various and divergent opinions on wolves.

“There will be debate, but at least we will have sound management,” Zanmiller said.

He said he sees the plan as a “road map to achieve the best goals for wolves and for (the public).”

The wolf plan in its current form includes six goals:

• Maintain a well-connected and resilient wolf population.

• Collaborate with diverse partners to collectively support wolf plan implementation. 

• Minimize and address human-wolf conflicts while recognizing diverse wolf values. 

• Inform and engage the public about wolves in Minnesota and their conservation. 

• Conduct research to inform wolf management.

• Administer the wolf program to fulfill agency responsibilities and public and partner needs.

According to the DNR, “The USFWS Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf (revised 1992) established a recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400 wolves, to ensure their continued survival in Minnesota. To provide a buffer above this, the Minnesota DNR identified a minimum population level of 1,600 wolves in the 2001 plan. The wolf population has not been below 1,600 since the late 1980s. It was estimated as high as 3,020 in the early 2000s, but with a reduced deer population has stabilized at about 2,700 wolves.”

The draft plan states that “if a population decline of concern occurs (e.g., falls below 1,600 or a declining trend if below 2,000), the standing wolf committee will discuss the appropriate level of concern, and as necessary recommend research needs and potential solutions to understand and address the concern.”

Stark said department officials prefer the stability of recent years.

“We want the population where it’s been the past decade,” he said.

Fewer wolves, he added, wouldn’t preclude the DNR from offering a season on wolves, should they be federally delisted. However, if wolf numbers are between 1,600 and 2,000 and showing a decline, such as season would likely be highly restricted or not occur at all. If the population were in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 animals, there might be greater opportunity to allow for a season, he said. 

Within the draft plan are “potential harvest rates” at various population levels. If the population is trending downward, with a population between 1,600 and 2,000, 5% would be considered. Between 2,000 and 2,200 and trending upward, that percentage is 5% to 10%. With a stable population between 2,200 and 3,000 wolves, a harvest consideration would be 10% to 20%. And if the population were 3,000 or more, potential harvest could be 20% or more.

Much also would depend on the reason for the season, Stark said. If there’s a high level of wolf conflicts – depredation of livestock, for example – a season might take a more targeted approach. 

If the population were to reach 3,000, the department would seek more public engagement regarding management options, potentially opening the door to additional hunting and trapping of wolves, he said.

What the future holds in terms of wolf numbers is an unknown, of course. A wolf hunt (and trapping season) hasn’t occurred in the state in nearly seven years. And since then, wolves have been, for the most part, federally protected.

Yet, Stark said, there’s “no indication” that the population has changed significantly.

Only so much of Minnesota supports the existence of wolves, he said, and in those areas, the population of wolves is largely influenced by prey density.

The highest recent wolf count occurred in 2003-04, when more than 3,000 wolves were surveyed.

“That coincided with some of the highest deer harvests in the northern part of the state,” Stark said.

He added that there’s been no notable expansion of wolf range since he became the DNR’s lead wolf monitor 15 years ago.

Zanmiller complimented the plan for its flexibility and addressed the concerns of individuals whether they be livestock producers, deer hunters, or wolf advocates.

“It gets everyone on the same page,” he said.

Moreover, the plan points to the fact that wildlife species belong to all Minnesotans with – especially in the case of wolves – divergent desires. “(The plan) seeks and embraces public input,” Zanmiller said.

Also important, he adds, is that its basis is in science.

For more on the draft wolf plan and to offer input, visit mndnr.gov

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