Minnesota DNR releases new wolf management plan
New guidelines generally support state's current wolf population, but could allow hunting and trapping if federal protections end.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Thursday released the long-awaited update to the state's wolf management plan that generally supports the state’s current wolf population, but also allows for potential hunting and trapping seasons if wolf numbers increase.
The draft version of the plan, if adopted, would be the first major change in state wolf policy since 2001. It was developed over the past two years by DNR wildlife biologists with input from an advisory committee composed of a cross-section of views on wolf issues, including tribal interests.
The DNR’s draft wolf management plan is open to public comments through Aug. 8 at dnr.state.mn.us/wolves/index.html . The plan could be adopted by the DNR later this year.
DNR officials said the new plan “incorporates the diverse views of Minnesotans and will guide the state’s approach to wolf conservation.”
“We’ve expanded our vision of wolves in Minnesota’’ since the 2001 plan, said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR. “Many Minnesotans appreciate wolves for their intrinsic value, and we are reflecting that now where maybe we didn’t in the original (2001) plan. There’s also more emphasis on tribal and public input now.”
Minnesota currently has an estimated 2,700 wolves that roam the northern half of the state, by far the most of any state outside Alaska. The draft plan calls for maintaining a minimum of at least 1,600 wolves in the state, with “mitigation measures to reverse decline’’ kicking in below that point.
The plan refers to a wolf population between 2,200 and 3,000 as the “optimal population level with current occupied wolf range …” and that, if wolves expand above 3,000, broader wolf harvest — more hunting or trapping — could be allowed. Above that level, the DNR would “consider additional public engagement and management actions to address depredation or other public concerns.”
The plan lists no potential wolf harvest if wolf numbers drop to 1,600 or below. But as wolf numbers increased, the agency said sustainable harvest could be allowed, including up to 5% harvest of the total population with wolf numbers between 1,600 and 2,000; up to 10% harvest with wolf numbers between 2,000 and 2,200; 10%-20% harvest with wolf numbers between 2,200 and 3,000; and up to 20% of the population harvested if the population rises above 3,000.
“The wolf population really hasn’t expanded much over the past couple of decades. It’s been pretty stable in population size and range, especially over the past few years,’’ Stark told the News Tribune. “There are certainly wolves observed in new areas, and a few isolated packs that get established. But the primary occupied wolf range … hasn’t changed much.”
Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said she was still reading details of the plan but appreciates the DNR's willingness to abandon 1970s-era goals and projections for wolves in the state.
“I’m glad that the updated plan aims to better reflect science on wolves, as well as the values of most Minnesotans, who, like me, care about wolves,” Adkins said.
The management plan could not go into effect until eastern or gray wolves are removed from federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Wolves are considered a threatened species in Minnesota and subject to control only by federal trappers who cull about 200 wolves annually nearly where livestock and pets have been killed.
The draft plan also calls for additional cooperation with tribal agencies, more wolf research, increased population surveys, increased public education, continued effort to reduce livestock depredation and other efforts to guarantee wolf conservation in the state. DNR officials say they want the updated wolf management plan in place if and when federal protections end and wolf management resorts back to states and tribes.
Minnesota allowed limited wolf hunting and trapping from 2012 to 2014, when just over 900 wolves were killed over three autumn seasons.
“Wolf conservation is a high priority for the DNR and we expect this updated plan to help ensure Minnesota’s wolf population remains healthy,” said Kelly Straka, the DNR’s wildlife section manager, in a statement. “Thank you to those who have already contributed to the extensive public and tribal engagement that helped create this draft. We are now asking folks to review the draft and share their thoughts with us.”
Many farmers, ranchers and deer hunters across Minnesota favor broader wolf management efforts to reduce the big canine’s predation on livestock and game. But a 2021 public opinion survey conducted by the University of Minnesota for the state Department of Natural Resources found strong support for wolves among the general public across the state, but, as expected, a mixed reaction on whether there should be hunting or trapping of the big canines.
The survey found 87% of general population residents who responded agree that maintaining a wolf population in Minnesota is important. Only 6.4% disagreed that having wolves is important. Only 41% of those survey support wolf hunting and only 30% support wolf trapping.
Two-thirds of the people polled said the state should maintain the current number of wolves. Among the general public, 86% of those polled want the same, more or even many more wolves in the state, while only 14.2% wanted fewer or no wolves.