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MN: DNR estimates surge in wolf population in Minnesota

The survey found a relationship between deer population and the number of wolves.

By Paul Walsh
Star Tribune

The number of wolves in the wild in Minnesota appears to have risen sharply, according to details from an annual state survey released Monday.

After remaining stable during the past four years, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) survey for 2016-17 found there were roughly 500 wolf packs and 2,856 wolves.

That’s up about 25 percent from the 2015-2016 survey, which estimated the number of packs at 439 and the wolf population at 2,278.

The latest survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 500 wolves.

DNR experts point to an increase in the number of deer, which wolves rely on for food, as playing a role in the wolf population surge.

From spring 2015 to spring 2016, deer density within the wolf range is estimated to have increased 22 percent. “Changes in estimated wolf abundance generally have tracked those of deer over the past five years,” said John Erb, the DNR’s wolf research scientist.

The wolf population survey is conducted in midwinter near the low point of the annual population cycle. A winter survey makes counting from a plane more accurate because the forest canopy is reduced and snow makes it easier to spot darker shapes on the ground.

The wolf range spans across all of far northern Minnesota and narrows steadily toward the south down to Little Falls and Milaca, according to the DNR.

Pack counts during winter are assumed to represent minimum estimates given the challenges with detecting all members of a pack together at the same time. A winter count also excludes the population spike that occurs each spring when the number of wolves typically doubles immediately following the birth of pups, many of which do not survive to the following winter.

The DNR’s goal for wolf management is to ensure the species’ long-term survival. Estimates in the 1950s put the wolf population at fewer than 750.

As the population grew over the decades, Minnesota launched a wolf hunting season in 2013 after the animal was removed from the federal endangered species list. But that ended in 2014 after a federal judge put the wolf back on the federal list of threatened species. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service manages all animals on that list.