St. Cloud Times Op-Ed Response: Suspend Minn. wolf harvesting

Your Turn: Suspend Minn. wolf harvesting

This is in response to the Monday Times Our View “Minnesota managing wolves well.” 

Before looking at numbers and management, let’s address why we even need wolves. A Romanian proverb says; “Where wolves roam, forests grow.” Recent studies of wolves in the wild show this to be true.

Wolves are vital for vegetation and the balance of wildlife species. Wolves do this by affecting the browsing behavior of deer and other herbivores. Without wolves, ecosystems deteriorate. There are many biological reasons to have wolves. The state’s Wolf Management Plan is reflective of this, and the goal of the plan is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves and to minimize human-wolf conflicts. A recreational wolf hunting and trapping season does not address these goals.

The Times addressed the extra pressure from harvesting of wolves by farmers. A record 300 wolves were killed. Under state management, farmers and others can kill wolves more readily. Penalties for poaching are much lighter now. Because of these factors, wolves will likely continue to be killed at higher rates out of season. Because a hunt of random non-problem wolves does not address the specific needs of farmers, it can make conflicts between wolves and livestock worse, resulting in even more wolf trapping by farmers.

The Times touted 1,200-1,400 wolves as a goal. These are the minimum numbers that trigger federal actions. The state’s Wolf Management Plan states that 1,600 is the minimum number of wolves for Minnesota.

The numbers

The 24 percent to 26 percent decline this year was measured at the same time as every other survey for the past 35 years. Every year wolves give birth and every year they die in high numbers. Wolf numbers had been stable without a hunt from 1998 through 2008.

The DNR states that 2,600 pups were born this year and will keep the wolf population stable. These pup numbers are a guess. When random wolves are killed, reproduction drops dramatically. To assume that every pack reproduced to its maximum capacity is wishful thinking. One study show that less than half of packs that lost one breeder had pups the next year.

The 2012 wolf count is at 2,211 with a range of 1,652-2,641. This is the lowest wolf count since before 1998. We could be at our state minimum number of 1,600 wolves per the DNR’s Wolf Management Plan.

The 2012 pack estimate of 438 is less than the 2004 number of 485. The pack size of 4.3 wolves per pack is the smallest measured. Pack sizes have been declining since 1998. Wolf pups die at very high rates, and a good predictor of pup survival is having six adult wolves in the pack. A pack size of 4.3 wolves may be too small to raise pups.

There is no reason to think that our lower wolf population can sustain the additional killing allowed by state law and another recreational hunting and trapping season.

The DNR has stated that the hunt was not for population management purposes. In fact, there is no upper limit for the numbers of wolves.

A statewide survey showed 79 percent of Minnesota voters agreed that the wolf is an asset that they want to pass on to generations.

It is time to suspend the hunt.

Maureen Hackett, M.D.
Founder and President, Howling For Wolves

Published July 19, 2013