Minnesota’s wolf population falls

Published 9:33 am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s midwinter wolf population has fallen by about 710 animals over the past five years to around 2,211, wildlife managers announced Tuesday, attributing the decline to fewer deer for wolves to prey upon and the resumption of sport hunting and trapping of wolves last fall.

Officials with the Department of Natural Resources stressed that wolves are resilient and the decline is no reason to fear for the species’ survival in Minnesota. They pointed out that the new estimate remains well above the state’s minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves, and higher than the federal government’s recovery goal range of 1,251 to 1,400. Researchers also estimate the state has 438 packs with an average litter size of six.

“We still have a robust wolf population here in Minnesota, and we can manage a regulated hunting and trapping season without having a long-term negative influence on the overall population,” Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist, told reporters on a conference call.

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But Stark said the maximum harvest quota will likely be proportionately lower than last fall and winter, when hunters and trappers killed 413 wolves during the state’s first wolf season since the animals came off the endangered list in the region. He said the DNR will likely announce the actual target and other details about the season later this month.

Wolf hunting opponents said they were surprised and dismayed by the size of the decline from the 2008 estimate of 2,921, and called on the DNR to cancel the upcoming season. They said they found the decline in the average pack size from 4.9 in 2008 to 4.3 this winter particularly alarming, saying the loss of breeding wolves reduces pups’ chances of surviving because there are fewer adults in the packs to raise them.