Numbers are down but above state and federal thresholds
The wolf population remains firmly established on Minnesota’s landscape, according to a comprehensive population survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The latest survey results estimate that within Minnesota’s wolf range there were 438 packs and 2,211 wolves last winter – down 710 wolves from the survey five years ago. Minnesota’s wolf range generally covers the state’s forested region.
The DNR intends on putting in place another conservative wolf season in fall and winter 2013.
Although lower than the 2008 wolf population survey estimate of 2,921 wolves, the population exceeds the state’s minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal range of 1,251 to 1,400 animals.
“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,” said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist.
One of the primary factors influencing the wolf population estimate was a 13 percent increase in average wolf pack territory size to about 62 square miles. The increase in territory size likely is caused by fewer deer per square mile, which has declined 25 percent since 2008 in the forested region of Minnesota.
A 12 percent decrease in the average number of wolves per pack from 4.9 to 4.3 also contributed to the lower population estimate. John Erb, DNR research biologist, said the reduction in average pack size likely is a combination of reduced prey and the harvest of wolves in the two months immediately preceding the mid-winter wolf pack counts.
Survey data is collected in mid-winter before pups are born. The birth of pups significantly boosts the wolf population each spring. With an estimated 438 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.
The DNR periodically conducts comprehensive wolf population surveys and annually monitors wolf population indicators such as carnivore scent post surveys, winter track surveys and wolf depredation trends. Survey data allows wildlife biologists to assess the population’s status and help ensure the long-term survival of the wolf in Minnesota
The DNR will more closely monitor pack and territory sizes in the next few years. More frequent radio collaring of wolf packs will provide additional data on the population’s response to wolf season harvest.
Compared to previous years, wolf populations had added mortality as a result of the 2012 wolf season and higher than normal livestock depredation control but continue to thrive. Wolves are widely distributed throughout their range and total wolf range has expanded in several areas along the southern and western boundaries since the last survey in 2008.
The DNR will continue to monitor and regulate the take of wolves, to ensure that human-caused mortality will not exceed safe levels for long-term population sustainability.
The DNR’s fall and winter 2013 wolf season will be based on the framework established for the 2012 season. Season details along with application information for prospective hunters and trappers will be available in late July once DNR biologists develop a final proposal and tribal authorities are consulted on the season framework.
The DNR’s goal for wolf management, as outlined in the state’s wolf management plan, is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing wolf-human conflicts that inevitably result when wolves and people live in the same vicinity. The DNR’s wolf management plan includes wolf-specific population and health monitoring, research, depredation management, public education and law enforcement efforts.
Visit the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/wolves to find the full report, an FAQ, and an overview of wolf management in the state, including the wolf management plan.