Population estimate similar to past 2 years and remains above state and federal thresholds
Results from the latest wolf population survey show no significant change in Minnesota’s wolf population during the past three winters, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The latest survey results estimate that within Minnesota’s wolf range there were 374 wolf packs and 2,221 wolves last winter. Although this year’s specific population estimate is lower than the previous winter’s estimate of 2,423 wolves, there has been no statistically significant change in population size during the past three years.
The population survey is conducted in mid-winter near the low point of the annual population cycle. Immediately following birth of pups each spring, the wolf population typically doubles, though many pups do not survive to the following winter.
“Results from the 2015 wolf survey demonstrate that the wolf population remains well established across northern and central Minnesota,” said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR.
Minnesota’s wolf population remains above the state’s minimum management goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400. Although the population estimate was not significantly different from last year, wolf packs observed were slightly larger this winter than in previous years, increasing from an average of 4.4 to 5.1 wolves per pack.
Also, wolf packs now appear to be using larger territories, with average territory size increasing from 58 square miles in 2014 to about 73 square miles last winter. Because white-tailed deer are the primary food source for Minnesota’s wolves, the wolf population tends to follow deer population trends.
“When prey declines, wolves must eventually re-adjust to the new conditions, which typically means fewer packs and each utilizing a larger territory to meet nutritional demands and sustain a competitive pack size,” according to John Erb, DNR wolf research scientist.
These wolf population parameters are similar to those estimated during the winter survey of 1997-1998, which, like this survey, came on the heels of back-to-back severe winters and a reduced deer population, Erb said.
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. Wolves in Minnesota returned to the federal list of threatened species as a result of a Washington, D.C. federal district court ruling in December 2014.
Visit the DNR website to find the full report, an FAQ and an overview of wolf management in the state, including the wolf management plan.