The Big Story Blog

The Big Story Blog: January 26, 2012 Archive

Questions and answers about the gray wolf

Posted at 9:46 AM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

Here's a list of Frequently Asked Questions and answers on the gray wolf written and posted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in December when the wolf was de-listed.


1) Why was the gray wolf listed as endangered?

Wolves became nearly extinct in the conterminous 48 states in the early part of the 20th century. Predator-control programs targeted wolves, and wolf habitat was altered and destroyed as eastern forests were logged and then converted to farms. Woodland caribou, bison, and beaver, the wolves' prey base, were also brought to near-extinction by settlers and market hunters. Predator-control programs, loss of habitat, and loss of prey resulted in the elimination of wolves throughout most of the conterminous U.S. except in northeastern Minnesota and Isle Royale, Michigan. A few individuals also remained in the northern Rocky Mountains.

2) What types of habitat do wolves use?
Gray wolves use so many different habitat types that they are equally at home in the deserts of Israel, the deciduous forests of Wisconsin, and the frozen arctic of Siberia. Within North America, gray wolves formerly ranged from coast to coast with the exception of the mid-Atlantic states, the Southeast, and perhaps parts of California. They were found in almost all habitat types; prairie, forest, mountains, and wetlands. In the conterminous 48 states today, they are found in the mostly forested lands of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

Wolves can live almost anywhere if they have abundant wild prey and excessive numbers are not taken by humans. The best habitat for wolves in the West is on public lands where both these needs are met. Wolf range has expanded in Minnesota and Wisconsin to include areas that are a mix of forest and agriculture. The Mexican gray wolf has been reintroduced into the mountains of the Apache National Forest in Arizona and translocated into the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

3) Do wolves need wilderness areas to survive? Can they survive near urban areas?
It was thought that gray wolves were a wilderness species, but wolf range has expanded into areas that we once thought could not support them. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, wolves have shown that they can tolerate more human disturbance than we previously thought. Consequently, it appears that wolves can survive anywhere there is sufficient food and human tolerance to allow their existence.

From a biological standpoint, we know that wolves can and do survive near urban areas. But whether wolves survive near cities and towns will depend on people. There are areas near large cities that have sufficient wild prey to support wolves. Wolves are predators, however, and conflicts arise when they kill livestock and domestic animals, including pets. These conflicts, along with urban hazards such as vehicle traffic, will likely limit the establishment of wolf populations near urban areas.

4) How far do wolves travel?

Wolf packs usually hunt within a specific territory. It is not uncommon for territories to be as large as 50 square miles but they may even extend up to 1,000 square miles in areas where prey is scarce. Wolves often cover large areas to hunt, traveling as far as 30 miles a day. Although they trot along at 5 m.p.h., wolves can attain speeds as high as 40 m.p.h. Most wolves disperse from the pack they were born into by age three. Dispersing wolves have traveled as far as 600 miles.

5) What do wolves eat?
In the Midwest, wolves eat mainly white-tailed deer but they also eat moose, beaver, and snowshoe hare. In the Rocky Mountains, wolves feed on elk, deer, moose, bison, and beaver. Wolves even eat some insects, small mammals, nuts, and berries. They may not eat for a week or more but are capable of eating 20 pounds of meat in a single meal.

6) If wolf numbers get too high, will deer and elk be eliminated?
Wolves have lived with their prey for many thousands of years, and the health of wolf populations is dependent on the health of their prey base. Under certain conditions wolves can cause local decreases in prey numbers. But if deer and elk numbers were to decline over an extended period of time, due to severe winter conditions or habitat changes, wolves would have less food available and their health would decline. They would then produce fewer pups and fewer pups would survive to adulthood. Also, more adult wolves would die because of poor health or in conflicts with other wolves. Thus, wolf numbers would decline before their prey could be eliminated.

Isle Royale, Michigan, serves as a living laboratory to illustrate this point. One female gray wolf naturally emigrated to this island (about 132,000 acres) more than 50 years ago and eventually three packs were established. Their primary prey is moose. Through the years the numbers of moose and wolves have fluctuated, but after 50 years a moose population continues to survive on Isle Royale.

7) Do wolves really take the old, young, sick, starving, or injured animals?
It is well-documented that wolves tend to do this. Hunting and bringing down big game is dangerous work and wolves are sometimes killed by elk, moose, and even deer. In the wild, they cannot afford to be injured; therefore, they go after the safest animals to kill and often leave strong animals alone. A recent study of wolf predation on elk in Yellowstone National Park, for example, found that wolves tend to kill calves and older animals - adult elk killed by wolves were about 7 years older than elk killed by hunters. If weather or other conditions make prey unusually vulnerable, wolves can and do kill prime-aged animals but wolf predation tends to be selective.

8) How do wolves in an area affect deer hunting?
Wolves survive by preying primarily on the most vulnerable individuals in the deer population (the very young, old, sick, injured, or nutritionally compromised) thus under certain conditions their impacts on the deer population are most likely compensatory rather than additive. That is, many of the deer that wolves kill likely would have died from other causes such as starvation or disease.

However, when weather events occur, such as deep snowfalls or drought, wolves can be a factor that reduces deer numbers further. For example, since wolves became protected in northern Minnesota in 1978, there has been a high and even increasing harvest of deer by hunters. But two consecutive hard winters (1995‑96 and 1996‑97) reduced the size of the state's northern deer herd, which in turn resulted in much lower deer harvests.

Wolves likely were accountable for a portion of the lower deer numbers and, in turn, the lower deer harvest. Subsequent mild winters resulted in a rebounding of the deer herd, despite the increasing wolf population.

The years 2005 through 2007 produced the highest deer harvests ever, with Minnesota deer hunters harvesting over 250,000 white-tailed deer during each of those hunting seasons - an approximate five-fold increase in hunter deer harvest since wolves were listed under the ESA in 1978.

Locally, the presence of wolves can reduce hunter success. The presence of wolves changes deer movements and behavior. Also some wolves hunt around bait piles that attract and concentrate deer, which may reduce the chances that deer will frequent the bait sites.

Thursday 1/26/2012
Hunting the gray wolf?

Posted at 9:09 AM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Hed

Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region were taken off the federal endangered species list in December. Today, Minnesota lawmakers are weighing a wolf hunt for next fall. We'll spend today talking about the wolf, it's de-listing and the pros and cons of a hunt.

DNR details planned Minnesota wolf hunt

Posted at 9:44 AM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

graywolf.jpg
Gray Wolf. Credit: John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

As two Minnesota legislative committees today examine the prospects for a gray wolf hunt this fall, the state Department of Natural Resources is already making plans.

MPR News reporter Stephanie Hemphill writes:

Just two days before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources takes over management of the wolf, it has announced more details about the states planned wolf hunt.

The DNR says it wants to have a conservative wolf hunt next fall; the agency is proposing a quota of 400 wolves.

The agency wants to issue 6,000 licenses to hunters and trappers. Just one license per person will be issued, and hunters would be required to register the animal the same day it is killed.

Hunters could use firearms, archery equipment, and muzzleloaders. Calls and bait would be allowed, with restrictions.

The season would start at the end of November when wolf pelts are at their prime.

Some hunters are asking for a season parallel with deer firearms season, but the DNR says that would be too hard to manage.

Minnesota's wolf population is about 3,000 animals; the DNR says the population could handle a bigger harvest but the agency wants to start slowly.


Rules of engagement on the gray wolf?

Posted at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

graywolf4.jpg
Gray Wolf. Credit: Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf / USFWS

On Friday, the gray wolf in Minnesota officially leaves the federal endangered species list and goes under the management of state officials. What does that mean for the wolves and you? Here's some guidance from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources:

Maintaining Minnesota's wolves

There are about 3,000 gray wolves in Minnesota. The DNR's plan establishes a minimum population of 1,600 to ensure long-term survival in the state (no maximum number of wolves is set). The agency will act if surveys show wolves falling below that level.

The federal de-listing requires the DNR to monitor wolves in Minnesota for at least five years.

Killing wolves

You can't hunt them, yet. But removal from the federal list means a gray wolf posing an "immediate threat" to livestock or pets on your property can be shot "in accordance with local statutes," the DNR says.

A wolf in the act of stalking, attacking or killing livestock or a pet constitutes an "immediate threat." (In the southern part of Minnesota, "immediate threat" is not required.) If you shoot or kill a wolf, you have to contact a DNR conservation officer within two days and turn over the wolf.

State rules also allow "harassment of wolves that are within 500 yards of people, buildings, livestock or domestic pets," the DNR adds. But you can't bait wolves to capture or kill them.

Farmers protecting livestock from wolves can find detailed information at the Minnesota Agriculture Department.

Hunting

Minnesota DNR officials are planning a "conservative" wolf hunt for the fall. It would still need legislative approval -- Minnesota House and Senate committees are reviewing the idea in meetings today.

Here's a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service map showing the range of the Western Great Lakes gray wolf (dark blue is the primary area).

wolfmap2333.jpg

Conservative wolf hunt best, witnesses tell lawmakers

Posted at 12:16 PM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

wolves.jpg
(MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery)

They don't agree on everything, but deer hunters, researchers and the Humane Society told lawmakers this morning a conservative approach is the best path for a proposed fall wolf hunt in Minnesota.

MPR News reporter Stephanie Hemphill kept tabs on the morning meeting in the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. She writes:

Noted wolf researcher Dave Mech told members it's very hard to shoot or even to trap a wolf. He said it's good to start small -- the DNR plans for a quota of 400 wolves in the first season -- in order to guage hunter interest and success rates.

"I think the first year, the first couple of years there will be a certain number people who want to hang a wolf rug on the wall, but after you get that first wolf rug, I mean how many more do you want to hang on your wall?"

The DNR is proposing a season in late fall, when pelts are prime. Deer hunters are interested in a season parallel with deer firearms season.

Mark Johnson, from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, agreed with other speakers that the first hunting season should be designed conservatively.

"The number one concern is seeing that state managment is initiated and it's done in an open enough fashion so people have opportunities and the money is there. But also enough parameters around it so state management of the wolf would continue. Number two, the subject comes up, we'd sure love to have it during the deer season."

The DNR wants a quota of 400 wolves for a hunting and trapping season in the late fall. The agency says if the season is held at the same time as deer firearms season, the kill might go higher than that.

The Humane Society continued to question whether the gray wolf population has recovered fully, Hemphill added.

While pleased by the DNR's conservative approach to fall hunt, Howard Goldman, the Humane Society's Minnesota state director, told lawmakers hunting may threaten the survival of wolves in the state.

His group hasn't yet decided whether to challenge the federal government's decision to remove the wolf from the endangered species list in the western Great Lakes.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is expected to review the plan at 3 p.m. today. The DNR needs legislative approval from lawmakers to conduct a wolf hunting and trapping season.

Wolves, wolf hunt stories from around Minnesota

Posted at 12:46 PM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

Prospects for a gray wolf hunt are triggering discussion and news stories around Minnesota. With the animal officially removed from the federal endangered species list on Friday, expectations for a hunt are growing.

Wolf population 'out of control' the Hibbing Daily Tribune wrote earlier this week.

"They are eating people's pets, they'll come right onto porches and snatch a dog or cat, they have been spotted on playgrounds and kill livestock such as sheep and cattle," stae Rep. David Dill told the paper. "The gray wolf is just a superior, super predator."

In Wisconsin, Some residents will be able hunt problem wolves as early as next week, WDIO reports.

More stories:

How do Minnesota hunters view proposed wolf hunt?

Posted at 2:41 PM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

With roughly half a million hunters in Minnesota, there are bound to be lots of opinions on the prospects for a wolf hunting and trapping season.

As lawmakers hear testimony today, we reached out this morning to hunters who are part of the MPR News Public Insight Network to tap their views on wolf hunt.

We got some great feedback. Most responding supported a wolf hunting season -- but they weren't planning to seek a permit.

"I would love to hunt a wolf, just once. It is a highly skilled and smart predator. It would also be a great trophy," Melissa Timm of Hampton wrote us. But, she added: "That is where I am conflicted. I usually only hunt what I will eat, or vermin. If the population is at a point where it is appropriate, I would do it. Also, It would be out of my budget at this time."

Jesse Dahl of Aurora wasn't completely set on a wolf hunt either.

I hunt all other legal game, deer, ducks, geese, grouse.... I also fish. I think it seems fair that if most other animals can be hunted, wolves should be too. I don't want to see a giant kill off, and then have to put the wolves back on the list.

Click on the map icons below to read more from Minnesotans in our network about the prospects for a wolf hunt, then add your voice.

View Minnesota hunter insights on a wolf season in a full screen map

Steven Hill of Zimmerman said he would definitely seek a wolf license if a hunt takes place.

They are part of the environment as any other animal and need to be managed so they are a heralthy and vibrant sub population in the overall check and balance system of the environment.

They must have a place in our ecosystem where they can thrive but must be maintained in numbers that allows for good and healthy animals that multiply but do not overpopulate or end up in diseased or suffer from deprivation of any sort.

Man can easily help them exist in a strong state not weakened. Hunters understand the methods to create and maintain good conditions for successful management.

In the end, the love of hunting deer for many in the state may trump all else.

Rodney Loper told us he's hunted south of Grand Rapids for over forty years. "There has been an active wolf pack of varying size there over the years. I have seen them rarely but lots of sign this year in particular.

"I would not buy a wolf license," he added. "Deer season is just that. Get my deer and/or celebrate a partner's good fortune."

Four points on a proposed wolf hunting season

Posted at 4:24 PM on January 26, 2012 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Environment

wolffff.jpg
Gray Wolf. Credit: Gary Kramer/USFWS.

State Department of Natural Resources officials have been testifying today in the
Minnesota House and Senate on the proposed gray wolf hunting and trapping season. While there are still plenty of details to work out, here's some of what we learned today.

Legislation. A wolf season requires legislative approval. There's a bill in the hopper calling for a wolf hunting season during the 2012 firearms deer season and a wolf trapping season to begin January 1, 2013.

Fees. The bill calls for a resident wolf hunting license fee of $38 and a $50 fee for trappers. At a Senate hearing this afternoon, DNR officials projected raising about $400,000 a year in new revenue.

That includes a $4 application fee with an expected 25,000 applications and a $50 fee for each of 6,000 licenses to hunt and/or trap 400 wolves.

Officials acknowledged it's not clear if Minnesotans have a long term interest in hunting wolves.

Odds. It's tough to hunt a wolf, the DNR's Dan Stark told senators this afternoon. Wolves use a lot of ground, as much as 200 square miles, he said. "You can imagine how much area a hunter or trapper would have to cover to be effective in getting a wolf."

Trapping, he added, is likely to be a lot more effective than hunting. The DNR hasn't ruled out allowing some type of baiting.

Farmers. With the gray wolf off the federal endangered species list, farmers have more flexibility to kill wolves that threaten and kill livestock, so-called wolf depredation.

But a wolf hunting season probably is not going to help farmers.

Stark said complaints about wolves killing livestock typically peak in the summer when wolf populations are higher following the birth of pups in the spring. The winter wolf population is fairly stable and "taking wolves in the winter isn't likely to address a lot of depredation complaints."

The wolf season, he added, will be "more of a recreational hunting opportunity."

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.

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