By John Myers
A timber wolf that had earlier become entangled in a wire trapping snare was shot and killed by a Duluth police officer Saturday afternoon along Rice Lake Road near Marshall School.
The wolf had first been reported near Tettegouche State Park on Lake Superior’s North Shore earlier in the week, then near the Sucker River outside Duluth. Several people had reported the entangled wolf earlier Saturday along the North Shore Scenic Highway, with the wire wrapped around the wolf’s muzzle.
Elizabeth Miller said she first saw the wolf walking on the road near the Lakewood Pumping Station on the eastern edge of the city.
“It seemed very disoriented. It would go from one side of the road to the other, then stop in the middle of the road,” she said.
Miller’s friend Kelly Looby said she got within a few feet of the wolf, and took photos, after she realized that it was unable to free its mouth.
The wire snare “was wrapped tight around its nose, and embedded into the nose. It clearly could not open its mouth at all. It was very thin,” Looby said.
Miller and Looby tried to follow the wolf but lost track of it. The Minnesota State Patrol, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ron Kramer and Minnesota Conservation Officer Don Murray were called in to help, as was Duluth-based Wildwoods wild animal rehabilitation service.
“He might have been able to lick up some snow and sniff roadkill, but he had not been able to eat,” Wildwoods reported. “He had been starving, and was a skeleton of fur and bones.”
Officer Murray said reports flooded 911 as the animal made its way through Duluth Saturday morning. The wolf was shot about 2 p.m. near the intersection of Baylis Street and Rice lake Road, near the Marshall School, Duluth police confirmed.
“We tried to catch up to it thinking maybe we could capture it and help it out. But it was too mobile. We couldn’t ever quite get close enough.” Murray told the News Tribune.
“Eventually it was all the way up (near the Marshall School) in that area and the decision was made to put it down,” Murray said. “It’s unfortunate but we had to think about public safety and” a potential traffic accident.
Murray said it’s unclear where or when the wolf became ensnared. Kramer kept the dead wolf.
A snare is a device intended to trap animals, a loop of wire designed to tighten around an animal’s neck. Trappers use scent or bait to lure animals into the loop of the wire snare and the animal becomes trapped and dies of asphyxiation. The devices are usually anchored to a tree or another immovable object. But in this case the wolf only went in as far as his nose and somehow freed the device from its anchor.
Wolves are off-limits to hunting and trapping under federal law. But snares are used legally to take coyotes year-round in Minnesota and fox remain legal for trapping through March 15.
“Snares are kind of the silent killer and they can be out there for a long time waiting,” said Kip Duncan, a Minnesota conservation officer who patrols in and around Duluth.
Wildwoods is using the incident to raise money to buy a net-shooting gun that could capture animals that are still mobile. Tranquilizing guns are generally not authorized for use in the wild, and neither Wildwoods nor DNR conservation officers have them.
Wildwoods also used the incident to renew calls for snares to be banned.
It’s not common for wolves to enter the Duluth city limits but it happens occasionally with the city on the edge of the north woods and with so many large, forested areas within the city. Wolves are more frequently seen in Hermantown and townships surrounding Duluth, especially areas with well-spaced homes and high deer numbers.
Reports of humans and pets interacting with wolves have risen sharply in recent years across northern Minnesota. But it’s not clear if that’s because wolves have become less wary of people or because the reports are so rapidly and widely distributed on social media.
“I think we’re just hearing about them a lot more than we ever did before,” Duncan said. “If anything I think we had more wolves around Duluth three or four years ago than we do now. … But they are around here. They’re in Hermantown. There’s a pack up by the (Duluth International) airport. They’re in Duluth Township. They just follow the deer around.”
Minnesota’s wolf population increased in 2017 from recent years, the Department of Natural Resources reported in September, in large part due to an increasing northern deer herd. The DNR said its annual survey showed an estimated 2,856 wolves spread among 500 packs, up from 2,278 wolves in 438 packs in the 2015-2016 survey. Wolf numbers had remained stable or declined some for several years before last year’s jump, including after state hunting and trapping seasons were allowed from 2012 to 2014.
Wolves in Minnesota remain protected as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act after a December 2014 court order. Several efforts are underway to overturn that court decision or pass legislation in Congress to delist wolves in the Great Lakes region.