Founder's Blog

A perspective on wolves and deer from a deer hunter

December 10, 2014 - Barry W. Babcock

     In northern Minnesota we have a 2 week firearms deer season. This 2014 season was from November 8th to sundown on the 23rd. Several events this year are note worthy enough to cite here.

     1. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (MDHA) held a series of public meetings with the MN DNR last year in order to arm twist them into acknowledging that the deer herd is drastically down. The MDHA, which the DNR considers a "client," bowed to the MDHA wishes and greatly curtailed the number of doe permits which made the season (mostly) bucks only.

     My take on this: The Minnesota deer herd, if down, is still too high. Deer numbers are impacting the ecology of our forests. Nearly all forest ecologists agree that behind climate change, an over populated deer herd is number 2 in posing a threat to the health and longevity of MN's forests. As for the poor hunter success rates of tagging whitetails by the states deer hunters is more the cause & effect of too many hunters who have become dependent on a plethora of gadgets. From what I see and hear from others, the vast majority of hunters rely on ATV's to get anywhere in the woods during the hunt. One need look no further than the thick catalogs of hunting outfitters' equipment to see where many hunters focus their attention. Deer are nocturnal animals and with tens of thousands of ATV's rumbling throughout Minnesota's forest lands during the hunting season, it's no doubt that the numbers of deer harvested (I don't like that term "harvest") is down. Who but anyone in their right mind would doubt this. In the woods around me, opening morning sounds like military maneuvers at Camp Ripley. It's tail gates dropping, ATV ramps banging, two stroke engines warming and noisy engines heading off into the land of the elusive whitetail deer.

     2. The weather during this entire period was below normal in temperatures and saw some winds that were persistently strong.

     My take: If you are a serious hunter, there are ways to effectively hunt in these conditions. One very effective way is to "still hunt", which is slowly taking a few steps, then stopping and looking and listening, then repeating this stop and go method - the movement helps keep the blood moving, something hard to do if you can't get your butt off your ATV seat. When bucks are in rut and does are in estrus, they will move, unless the woods is full of motorized traffic....then deer wait till sundown when the noisy machines and ignorant hunters leave.

     3. And the presence of wolves and the third MN wolf hunt with 250 permits issued is also another issue with hunters.

     My take: During the entire week preceding the rifle hunt, I was in the woods daily with my stick bow. During this period, I saw unbelievable numbers of deer and most especially some nice mature bucks. Once opening weekend of the rifle season started, the numbers of deer I saw dropped about 50%. Deer have always tended to become more nocturnal during the gun season but during the last 20 years this tendency has greatly increased. I attribute this to the modern gadget addicted hunter rather then having hunters who have the basic understanding of the habits of white tailed deer which I refer to as being the soul of caution.

     Last Thursday evening well after sundown, I and my son-in-law heard a pack of wolves howling quite persistently at a distance of not more than 200 yards from my backdoor. During the next 2 days, we saw between 12 and 15 deer. And they were heard again at sunrise on Friday but at a greater distance. Now, I am not suggesting that the deer we saw is wholly attributable to the wolves but I am saying that wolves move deer around and that's a good thing for hunters like me. A deer has senses more acutely attuned to his world than our meager understanding will ever grasp. They can, in a metaphysical sense, disappear into thin air from us dumb humans. Wolves root them out and move them around. As I have written before, as among most Indian people, including the Koyukon's of Alaska, see the wolf as “the master predator among the animals of the north, possessing intelligence and strength, keen senses, and above all the ability to hunt cooperatively. Like the humans that they watch from afar, wolves multiply their muscle and mind by cooperating in pursuit of prey, then share the spoils. Indeed, for the Koyukon, the similarity between wolves and humans is no coincidence – in the Distant Time, a wolf-person lived among people and hunted with them. When they parted ways, they agreed that wolves would sometimes make kills for people or drive game to them, as a repayment for favors given when wolves were still human.” [Make Prayers to the Raven,” Richard K. Nelson, p.159]

     In hook & bullet publications and letters to editors I read extreme embellishments of the number of wolves in N MN. Hunters report seeing more wolf tracks than deer tracks, that wolves are out of balance and need management, and wolves going on killing sprees. I live in the woods, I study the interactions of all wildlife and I do not see this. Yes, there are wolves distributed throughout the northwoods but as for claims of our forests being over taken by wolves is just ridiculous. Wolves do a good job of remaining in balance within their range. It is the whitetail whose numbers exceed the sustainability of the forest. I have been hunting deer for a half century. I have a perspective that most hunters do not. In the 1960's, with wolves absent from most of their current range, deer population was without question, the lowest it has been in my lifetime. The deer population from 2000 up to today has exceeded one million - the largest numbers of whitetails in history. This same period (2000 to 2014) coincides with a steady population of 3,000 wolves. How do these anti-wolf hunters explain this?

     Time after time, I see the wolf as an asset rather than a liability. Hunters need to get out of that group think mentality and observe more closely the plant and animal communities in which they hunt. Hunting was never meant to be a 21st century gadget driven pass-time till the recreational-industrial complex got into the equation, it was and is meant to be a link with our far distant past. It is to be a port-hole into that past. It is not the job of government resource departments to make game farms out of the northwoods. We are still lucky to have a semblance of wildness in our northern forests. Remove the wolf and the wildness is gone. As Wisconsin's great conservationist, Aldo Leopold said, "...the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead. An enormous amount of some kind of motive power has been lost." I would argue that by removing the wolf, or reducing him to a remnant, we have removed or crippled that great "motive power," "we toppled the spire off an edifice abuilding since the morning stars first sang together." The wolf, the deer and the raven have been together since we were throwing spears. They are the front line of wildness, yet untamed by man and industry.



November 19, 2014 - Dr. Michael W. Fox

Federal U.S. Geological Survey wolf biologist and trapper Dave Mech, pointing his finger at rising wolf numbers as responsible in his field-study area for the decline in moose suggests that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) “could allow hunters to kill more wolves in the moose range until the population recovers”. (Star Tribune Nov 2, 2014, p.C18). Ironically, on this same page, reporter Dennis Anderson in his article “Gone From Sight” presents a debate on the dramatic decline in the state’s whitelail deer herd, with finger-pointing at DNR mismanagement and over-harvesting. Earlier data indicate that when the wolf was protected under the Endangered Species Act the whitetail deer population flourished. Wolves keep deer on the move, preventing overgrazing/browsing and tree damage. As though to bolster Mech’s questionable opinion, Anderson subsequently published a long interview with Mech  ( Star Tribune Nov 16, 2014, pC20) who plays cautious scientist when it comes to climate change and associated debilitating tick infestations being significant factors in the decline of moose especially in northeastern Minnesota. He repeatedly states that while these factors may be “true” or “possible”, “we don’t have evidence of it”, while insisting that wolves are the main cause, along with consecutive bad winters.

Bad winters and too many hunters diminish deer numbers which means more wolves prey on livestock, some 200 wolves being killed for doing so in 2014 by state and federal officials. Regardless, the MN DNR set a wolf quota of 250 animals for the 2014-5 season, some 15,000 people applying for 3,800 licenses to shoot, snare or trap them. DNR wolf manager Dan Stark states that “The hunt isn’t having a significant influence on wolf numbers”, insisting that the de-listing of the wolf as an endangered species was not intended to reduce wolf numbers (because there were too many, which many people argued), but to “have a sustainable hunting and trapping season”. ( Star Tribune Nov.16.2014 p C20)

There are many factors involved in the demise of Minnesota’s moose, especially wetland encroachment and drainage for agriculture; parasites, disease and massive winter tick infestations that lead to anemia, weakness, proneness to predation and failure to thrive and reproduce, climate change notwithstanding. While several moose have been killed accidentally by DNR researchers applying radio-collars and some Native American Indian tribes claim their right to kill their entitled annual quota of moose regardless of their threatened status, all involved parties, regardless of their best intentions, surely need to step back. Current wildlife management policies and practices need to be examined. Is the goal to maximize human interests in terms of “sustainable harvesting” of trophy and consumable species of commercial value, or to maximize species diversity for ecosystem health and sustainability?  Surely the demands and influence of the human species on other species and their habitats must be constrained for the greater good rather than directed by some economic or social, recreational good. We cannot control the weather but to some degree we can control ourselves. Reducing the wolf kill quota to zero for 2015-6 may be a good start for the DNR in recognizing that wolves are biologically the better wildlife managers than they.

The author is a veterinarian and wild canid ethologist who wrote the book The Soul of the Wolf. For more details visit




Moose Facts

July 17, 2014 - Howling for Wolves

Moose populations are in steep decline across the northern tier of North America.  In May 2014, Alaska canceled moose hunting on the North Slope because of a "surprising and drastic" population decline of 50-75% since 2011.  From Alaska to British Columbia, Minnesota to Manitoba, and Ontario to New England, moose populations have declined at an alarming rate.

Moose populations are declining even in places where there are no wolves. The New Hampshire moose population has declined 41% since the 1990’s; there are no wolves there.

Minnesota's moose population has dropped 52% since 2010.

Studies point to climate change, with warmer winters and summers, along with parasites such as ticks and b. tenuous, a brain parasite spread by white tail deer as likely causes of the decline in moose.

Minnesota: Moose, Wolves and Deer

Moose and wolves have co-existed in Minnesota for tens of thousands of years.  White tail deer now inhabit more areas in MN than they have ever historically.

When MN had our highest, stable number of wolves for 10+ yrs (1998-2008), we had a healthy moose population and a high white tail deer population.

B. Tenuous is a parasite that originates in slugs and snails and infects both white tail deer and moose. This parasite affects moose by infecting their brains causing severe illness and inability to feed and survive. Moose have been euthanized after they were observed walking and swimming in circles for days.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Moose Mortality Study

New technology deployed in the DNR includes hair samples and GPS collars that track moose movements and will allow more data to be collected including the diet of moose. Now the DNR has more information on the predator-prey interactions that previously went unobserved deep in the forests.

Moose are weaker with weight loss and illness which likely causes moose to give birth to less healthy moose calves.  The moose calves killed by wolves were often one moose in a set of twin moose calves.  Last year’s DNR studies showed very high moose calf mortality. In 2014, 58% of calves in the DNR moose study were abandoned before researchers changed their collaring protocol.  The MN moose mother’s behavior was different than in other state’s collaring events.

Minnesota DNR on the Moose Decline

The exact causes of moose mortality are not well understood. Previous research has demonstrated that hunting and predation by wolves are not the primary causes of adult deaths, and signs indicate the causes are likely multiple factors including poor nutrition.


Listen to the interview with a DNR researcher:


UPDATE: Tough Day for Minnesota Wolves

May 8, 2014 - Howling for Wolves

It was a disappointing day for the wolf at the Capitol. For two years, we've had good bills for wolf protection and management blocked in committee. This year we proposed a compromise bill calling for a temporary suspension of the wolf hunt and comprehensive data collection. We've learned today that many lawmakers are seemingly entrenched in their extreme negative feelings toward the wolf.

Endorsed  by a panel of 10 top independent research scientists, SF2256 was recognized as a reasonable bill, a compromise bill. Over 400 wolf advocates packed the rotunda for Wolf Day in February. Thousands of people from Minnesota and around the world have written to our lawmakers pleading for wolf protections and an end to the recreational wolf killing. Phones have been ringing at the Capitol for months. Advocates have been at the Capitol for the past eight days as a visible presence for the wolf. In short, wolf advocates have conducted a sustained, sometimes noisy effort to reverse an unpopular wolf hunt that was passed quietly and rushed into law.

With our bills stalled in committee, several amendments were introduced in an attempt to get some protections for wolves this session. Even if amendments pass, they can still be removed in Conference Committee by Representative Dill or Senator Schmit. A modest amendment calling for wolf deaths to be posted quarterly to the the DNR website passed with a slim margin. Senator Eaton's amendment calling to reinstate the 5 year wait before a wolf hunt was defeated 36 to 27. Another amendment that would ban snaring all wildlife and baiting with meat piles and electronic distress calls for wolf hunting was defeated 34 to 29. The good news is that we had a lot of votes for the wolf and some strong, steadfast champions. We also have more lawmakers committed to advancing wolf protections, including authentic offers for leadership on the issue.

We’ll keep you posted on developments in Conference as we learn them. Watch today’s hearing.


Do Wolves Need an EagleCam?

April 26, 2014 - Howling for Wolves

With the DNR’s live-streaming eaglecam enjoying international attention, we started reflecting on these iconic Minnesota species. Consider:

5 Ways Wolves & Eagles Are Alike
* MN has more of each species than any other state in the lower 48.
* Each are among very few species that pair raise their young.
* Both usually mate for life.
* Both are top predators brought back from near extinction in the 1970’s under the protection of Endangered Species Act (ESA).
* Both are caught, injured and die indiscriminately in traps and snares.

5 Ways Wolves & Eagles Are Different
* Coming off ESA protections and under state management, wolves were immediately subjected to recreational hunting and trapping. Wolves are the only species ever to be hunted immediately after ESA delisting.
* Wolves may be shot on sight by citizens who feel a wolf is threatening their person, pet, or livestock.
* The MN wolf population dropped 25% within 1 year of delisting, while MN’s eagle population continues to flourish.
* MN wolves are classified as “small game"; eagles are still protected under the federal Bald Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Act.
* Eagle chicks get a DNR “eagle cam” and PR campaign. At 6-7 months old, wolf pups will be shot and trapped in the recreational trapping and hunting season. 60% of wolves killed in the MN wolf hunt were under 2 years old. Packs will be disrupted and pups will be orphaned.

Those in favor of the Minnesota wolf hunt claim that the wolf should "be managed like any other species.” That’s fine - we pick the eagle. Alike in so many ways, wolves should be treated with the same respect and protections. Will the DNR put up a wolf pup cam? Not likely. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr testified this winter that bear “den cams are creating internet celebrities” out of bears that lead to “outcry” when one is legally killed by a hunter. No, the DNR wouldn’t want wild wolf pups to become internet sensations if we’re just going to kill them in November.

With only weeks left in the legislative session, we call on lawmakers to protect Minnesota’s other iconic species -the wolf. And we ask them to protect all creatures from cruel and indiscriminate snares and traps.


Against the Wolf Hunt in Wolf Country

April 17, 2014 - Howling for Wolves



With lawmakers once again turning an eye to the recreational wolf hunt, opposition to the hunt continues to grow. Each week we're seeing new voices come out against the hunt with well-reasoned arguments and requests to state lawmakers to suspend the hunt. Editorial boards of newspapers around the state are weighing in against the wolf hunt. Two papers in the heart of wolf country recently came out in favor of suspending the hunt, representing a significant shift in media momentum.

While the wolf hunt was rushed quietly into law, our lawmakers now insist they need to hear more "noise" from their constituents before they will protect wolves and follow our state's Wolf Management Plan. With only a few weeks left in this legislative session, now is the time to make sure lawmakers and the media hear from you. Your personal contacts with lawmakers including letters, emails and phone calls are making a difference. Make some noise.






Panel of 10 Scientists Endorse SF2256, Wolf Bill now in MN Legislature

March 16, 2014 - Howling for Wolves
10 scientists representing a broad range of expertise have written in support of Minnesota’s Senate File (SF) 2256. The independent, peer reviewed research scientists submitted a letter of support to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on SF 2256, known as the wolf data collection bill. Collectively, these scientists represent over 10 decades of experience studying wolf-human interactions and participating in wolf management. Together they have published over 25 scientific articles on predators and their interactions with people. Additionally, they’ve served on over 22 advisory boards or management committees for state, tribal, federal, or private organizations. The bill proposes multiple provisions to address inadequacies in the current approach to wolf management in Minnesota.
The link to read the document from the scientists: 10 Scientists Endorse Bill SF2256.
The list of supporting scientists:
Adrian Treves (lead author), Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison 
Michael P. Nelson, Ph.D., Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources and Professor, Oregon State University
Jonathan Way, Ph.D., Eastern Coyote Research and Clark University (Worcester, MA)
Guillaume Chapron, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, program in Wildlife Biology
Edward J. Heske, Ph.D., President, American Society for Mammalogists, and President, Illinois Natural History Survey
Timmothy Kaminski, M.S., Mountain Livestock Cooperative, Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Craighead Environmental Research Institute
Cristina Eisenberg, Ph.D., Smithsonian Research Associate, Oregon State UniversityCollege of Forestry
Rolf O. Peterson, Ph.D., Research Professor, Michigan Technological University
David Parsons, Ph.D., Carnivore Conservation Biologist, The Rewilding Institute 
Bill Ripple, Ph.D., Professor, Oregon State University

Wolf Day Feb 27, 2014: Video (2 min)

March 1, 2014 - Bill Sorem

Minnesota State Capitol,  St. Paul
Thursday, February 27, 2014

Over 400 people gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol for Wolf Day this week in the largest rally for wolves yet in the state and probably the country. Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, Ph.D. and UN Ambassador for Peace, welcomed wolf advocates with an inspirational video message and memorable howl. Dr. Goodall was followed by a stellar lineup of Minnesota's own conservation champions. This quick highlight video opens with the recording of the mournful howl of a wolf without her pack shared by Dr. Michael Fox. Dr. Fox is followed by hunter and environmentalist Barry Babcock, Robert DesJarlait of Protecting Our Manoomin, and Clint Carroll, PhD., professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Stay tuned for more on this important day and what is next in our collective efforts to protect our wolves.
Click to view the video (2 min)


MN Farmer Calls for Non-lethal Methods & Best Management Practices

February 5, 2014 - Kathleen Zweber

My name is Kathleen Zweber.  I live and work on a small farm just north of Duluth, MN on the shores of Lake Superior. My home is surrounded by acres of wild watershed land that is home to a variety of animal species, including wolves.

As a farmer and a hunter, I believe that everyone shares a responsibility to understand the importance of different animal species and to help maintain balance in the environment we share with them.  Keeping domestic livestock and pets comes with a reasonable and manageable risk of conflict with wild animals that may be attracted to them as easy prey.   While I acknowledge the risk, I do not consider predators like wolves to be a threat.

The real threat is human activity.  People who carelessly leave garbage outside or purposely bait hunting targets increase that risk of conflict by teaching wild animals that humans can be a source of easy food.  It is no coincidence that fishers, fox and wolves began exploring closer to homes, or that domestic animals disappeared from my neighborhood as soon as wild predators learned that neighbors were setting “bear bait” in the woods last summer.    Prior to that, the only wildlife conflict I experienced were isolated incidents with migrating raptors.

When I researched the laws and policies of baiting wild animals, I was disappointed to learn how little baiting activity is regulated.  Although I was able to find restrictions for baiting in proximity to landfills and campsites, I was unable to find protection for businesses like mine… or for the licensed daycare located a half mile down my road.

Given the fact that baiting wild animals has so few restrictions, I feel like I have little control over the disruptions on my farm or in my neighborhood as a result of the actions of others.  As I researched more options and sought advice, I learned of funds available to compensate for animals lost to depredation and that there are circumstances under which I could legally kill predators that attack them.  These are clearly described in the 2001 Minnesota Wolf Management Plan.  Also included in the 2001 Plan are ”Best Management Practices” (BMPs) –non-lethal methods that reduce or prevent livestock depredation.

I believe that it is far more efficient to fund and study methods that PREVENT conflict with wildlife than it is to react to it once it occurs, and that information about BMPs should continue to be developed, tested and updated, and be readily available to anyone who lives in proximity to wolves. In addition to a need to continue to develop and study BMPs, there is strong evidence to suggest that disrupting packs and family units by killing predators may contribute to an increase in depredation.

As someone whose life and livelihood already involves risk of conflict with wolves, I do not feel that it is worth taking a chance that the recreational hunting, trapping and killing wolves could actually increase the incidents of depredation, especially when hunters use bait.

Science has already shown us that the environment becomes even more dangerous when people attempt to “sanitize” property of the animals they fear.  The list of consequences is long and the effects of those consequences are felt by many.  For example, the increase in tick-borne diseases is linked to the killing of predators that prey on the animals that carry such diseases.  This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg… a much bigger iceberg than can be discussed here.

As the 2001 Wolf Management Plan states, non-lethal methods are proven and available. But now in 2014, Minnesota has yet to adopt them.  BMPs offer acceptable and effective alternatives to minimize the risks of conflict between our domestic animals and the predators around us by keeping our wild neighbors wary and distant. Yes, there will be times when lethal force is needed, but increased funding and use of non-lethal methods can offer ways to reduce and prevent that need.  BMPs will be even more successful if people stop the dangerous activities that teach wild animals to do the opposite, such as baiting them.

As a Minnesota citizen and taxpayer, I feel that it is reasonable to expect the DNR and the rest of our State government to reflect the views and interests of the people it serves.  We are diverse, but we have also demonstrated the willingness and ability to work together to protect our natural and economic resources.   As a rural resident with a farm-based business, my life and career depend on the health of the ecosystem I am a part of.  I have a personal and professional responsibility to understand and protect that ecosystem, including wolves, and feel it is reasonable to expect the partnership of my fellow citizens and my government in doing so.

Whether we live in the city or the country, we are all Minnesotans.  Therefore, we all have a duty to understand the environment and coexist with wildlife in ways that are based in science and ethics rather than stereotypes or emotions.

* Kathleen Zweber testified at the House Environment & Natural Resources Committee hearing on wolf management held on 1/28/14*


The Real Purpose of the Hunt: Recreation

January 9, 2014 - Maureen Hackett

This week MN2020 published a well-written commentary on the wolf hunt that unfortunately is based on the erroneous assumption that the wolf hunt was for population management purposes.  The wolf hunt was for recreational purposes.  This was stated in writing by the MN DNR in their response to the petition for rulemaking change that they wrote before the first wolf hunt in the fall of 2012. 

The wolf population in MN was stable and not expanding in size or in territory without a hunt for 10 years from 1998-2008.  Unfortunately, a baseline survey was not conducted prior to hunting wolves for recreational purposes for the first time ever. So it is unclear if the unexpected 25% drop in wolf numbers and the continuing decline in pack size that is occurring since measurements were started (now 4.3 wolves per pack) after the first hunt is a consequence solely of the hunt or if it is due to the many other sources of deaths that wolves face. 

We have no experience with hunting a social animal like the wolf where individuals in the social group of the pack matter.  If we ever have a problem with too many wolves we know one thing for certain: we are very capable of killing wolves.  We do not need a recreational hunt to do this and a recreational hunt seems to fuel the wolf hate, which is the driving reason for the wolf's demise.

Howling For Wolves continues to advocate for a suspension of the wolf hunt to more carefully assess the state's wolf management which involves lightened state laws surrounding killing wolves that are perceived to be a threat and lightened poaching penalties along with all of the other challenges that wildlife face to survive in a changing climate.  Killing wolves by humans has consequences for several to many years to a wolf population that needs to be more carefully understood.  It is important that people understand the real purpose of the wolf hunt: recreation.



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