HFW Testimony to Minnesota House of Representatives Mining & Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee

Testimony by Dr. Maureen Hackett, MD
Founder and President of Howling For Wolves

Minnesota House of Representatives Mining & Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee
Hearing on January 20, 2015, 2:45 p.m. – 10 State Office Building

Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for this opportunity to provide another perspective on Minnesota’s gray wolf population.
My name Maureen Hackett, president and founder of Howling For Wolves, a Minnesota-based wolf-advocacy organization. Howling For Wolves is focused on protecting wolves to ensure their long-term survival. Our 77,000+ supporters and advocates oppose the killing of wolves for sport and certain cruel methods utilized.  And 79% of Minnesotans agreed the wolf should be protected for future generations.
We have worked to educate and advocate that state lawmakers and the Minnesota DNR choose smart, science-based, plan that used non-lethal methods to manage our wolf population in the first place.  We opposed the recreational wolf hunt because it was not smart and it was not popular.  But it is clear to most people that the wolf population is being threatened after three years of a reckless hunt and no non-lethal methods supported by the state. So we support the Federal court’s decision to return Minnesota wolves to the endangered species list as threatened.

And, although nobody - including Howling For Wolves - wants the gray wolf to be endangered, its re-listing presents an opportunity for smart and science-based wolf plan to prevail as we work together on policies that will sustain the only original wolf population remaining in the lower 48 states.

The evidence from Minnesota’s wolf hunting and trapping experiment demonstrates it was detrimental to the gray wolf’s fragile recovery in Minnesota. This hunt contributed to its re-listing, as the federal judge described the wolf hunt in Minnesota as “virtually unregulated.”

After the first year of no federal protection the wolf population was dropped by 24-26%. Of course this is only a trend and it could be worse. But there was never a baseline population survey. In total over 1600 wolves have been killed or found dead in three years and those are only the known wolf deaths documented by the DNR.

The wolf hunt is reckless, unpopular, and unnecessary. As you know, the DNR halted the last wolf season abruptly after hunters significantly overshot the wolf harvest target. While some say it indicates we have a lot of wolves, more likely it indicates that the wolf population is being disrupted and is in chaos with teen wolves raising pups.

The truth is nobody can claim to know Minnesota’s exact wolf population or the impact of hundreds being killed for sport.

However, we do know that the use of a recreational hunt is not a smart or scientific way to “manage” wolves, because killing wolves can cause pack instability. Unlike deer and other small game, wolves live in packs of family generations and when they are killed, the entire pack is affected. They mourn the death of their pack mates and often the social structure of the pack becomes unstable. This can lead to problems for farmers, communities and even for the wolves that survived the hunt but get killed due to the increased conflicts with farmers and the public.

There are additional scientific indications that we are risking the survival of our wolves by hunting them and not protecting them. The wolf pack size continues to drop with only four wolves on average per pack. One disease outbreak could wipe out our wolves; something made more likely by the biological changes that occur when any animal is under severe stress whether it be physical or social. We have basically taken away any margin of error for the wolf populations’ survival.  

With regard to depredation concerns, a recent statistical study published this December from Washington State University finds that killing wolves actually makes more problems for livestock producers in wolf habitat. The study compiles 25 years of statistics from several states and indicates Human-caused mortality including wolf-hunting led to more livestock losses the following year in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

The reason, as I mentioned, is because when a wolf is killed, it disrupts their pack, and when the packs break up, younger and smaller less functional packs can result. This then leads to wolves seeking easier food from farmers to survive.

The researchers recommended that non-lethal methods be considered when possible. Knowing this, and understanding the legitimate concerns of farmers affected by the rare wolf-livestock encounters, Howling For Wolves is ready to work in cooperation with the agriculture community and the state to enhance non-lethal control options that will accomplish our shared goals.

In conclusion, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources should be using a smart wolf plan and non-lethal methods to maintain the stability of Minnesota’s wolf packs. The recreational wolf hunt (which indiscriminately kills wolves) was unnecessary and even counterproductive.

We know that Minnesotans see the value to having wolves and want them protected for future generations. The DNR’s own survey showed the wolf hunt is unpopular, with 79% of opposing the hunt in their own online survey in May 2012.

It is in all of our shared interest to work together on a path forward. As citizens and voters, we must demand a better-informed, proven management plan to support the gray wolf population into the future and plan for smart living with wolves.

*        *        *

The use of indiscriminate methods, such as baiting, trapping, and snaring, are cruel and harm non-target animals such as dogs.  Wire-loop snares cause wolves painful brain bleeds because their neck muscles keep them from suffocating. Baiting is done with electronic distress calls of wolf pups, playing on wolves’ strong parenting instincts that drive them to help any young wolves.

Resources cited:
 * Minnesota wolf population numbers: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html
 * Polling memos of Lake Research Partners on Minnesotans “Attitudes toward wolves and the wolf hunt”


January 20, 2015