Wolf Numbers Not Adding Up — Again

Numbers-wise, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that little has changed with the state’s wolf population in the last year.

And so, nothing has changed with the wolf situation as a whole here in the last year.

Absolutely nothing.

Just weeks after I started at Northland Outdoors in August of last year, the DNR released its 2015 report on the state’s wolf population. I had been working out of the state for several years and was out of the wolf-saga loop, so it was news to me that wolves in Minnesota were returned to the federal list of threatened species late in 2014, eliminating the short-lived wolf hunts in the state.

It didn’t surprise me, though — wolves had been delisted, then added back to the threatened species list before being delisted again leading up to that first hunt in 2012. And I just figured that, after three wolf-hunting seasons, their numbers possibly were down to a point that would warrant relisting. If that were the case, I could understand.

But it wasn’t the case. Still isn’t. And, as I indicated in a column after the 2015 wolf report was issued, I still don’t understand.

According to the just-released report, the latest survey results estimate that, within Minnesota’s wolf range, there were 439 wolf packs and 2,278 wolves last winter, compared to 374 packs and 2,221 wolves the year before.

That’s way above the state’s minimum management goal of 1,600 wolves and even farther above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400.

And last year, while the DNR also said the wolf population was holding steady from the previous year, the estimated number of wolves actually had dropped — by more than 200. So, on the heels of that last wolf hunt, with what could signify the beginning of a downward trend in estimated overall wolf numbers, you possibly could make a case for continuing to list wolves, at least to see if there would be another drop-off the next year.

But the wolf population is up, and the DNR again says it’s just as constant as it’s been in recent years. And constant can be good. But when those numbers have been blown up all along, it can be a constant issue, too.

So instead of getting closer to those management and recovery goal numbers, without management tools such as, say, a hunt, there’s a good chance wolf numbers will continue to pull away from any goal numbers.

And that’s a problem.

Because wolves are listed, the population can’t be managed in-state. And with healthy wolf numbers, the DNR has little chance (and no power) of getting anywhere near management goals the agency strongly believes are necessary to help ensure the overall health of the population.

And unless there is some sort of cap on wolf numbers — a number that, if reached, would result in the delisting of wolves and, in turn, management by the state (I thought that was 1,400 animals — the federal recovery goal max), the number of wolves will very likely continue to pull away from what state and federal types believe are realistic, healthy numbers for the population.

Wolves are a Minnesota icon, and in many parts of the state, seeing one of these animals can be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But numbers left untended, without some sort of cap or concern for true management, can be harmful to a population — and not just wolves. Ranchers and cattle owners know this all too well; deer hunters, too, although deer numbers appear to be slowly coming back in many parts of the wolf range, according to the DNR.

I asked these questions this time last year, and a year later, they’re just as relevant, if not more so: Are the minimum management and federal recovery goal numbers too low? Or is the estimated number of wolves somehow off? Or are wolf advocates (and the courts, it would seem) being unrealistic in what they feel the numbers should be, if there is a number at all?

Because, once again, something’s not adding up here.

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