Just how many wolves have you seen in Nobles County? Just how many wolves have you seen in your whole life, period, regardless of where it might have been at?
The answer for most folks, regardless if you are an outdoor person or not, is usually zero. That’s right, zero. Most folks have never seen a wolf.
Wolves were hunted almost to extinction back in the early 1900s. They ended up later on the endangered species list. They are pretty much hated by most farmers and ranchers because they see a cow calf, or other livestock like sheep and goats, as an easy meal. Livestock producers are compensated for these losses by some government fund.
Wolves were just about wiped out until federal protections kicked in to make killing one a serious crime. Big fines and other costs were levied to any and all who killed illegally.
There are currently about 2,900 wolves in Minnesota, and 900 and 700 respectively in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Wolves are considered threatened in Minnesota and endangered in the other two states listed. When wolves went on the protection list in Minnesota, it was deemed by all the powers concerned at the time that that Minnesota could hold about 1,600 wolves and still balance the deer, elk and moose herds.
If 1,600 was considered completely recovered, then why are there so many folks all up in arms about removing them from the endangered species list now?
For about the 20th time in the past 20 years (this is an exaggeration made for effect) the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is again proposing to remove wolves from the endangered species list. This would then make the Minnesota DNR responsible for their management and conservation.
When the de-listing happened a few years back, Minnesota had a very limited wolf and trappers hunt. That lasted about three years, and a total of about 1,000 wolves were harvested during that period. After those three years, a judge (as a result of another lawsuit) intervened and added them back to the ESL.
There was recently a big public meeting in Brainerd that had almost 400 people attend. The function of the gathering was to take public input as to the proposal to de-list the wolf.
Most advocates for the wolf will reluctantly admit that the population in Minnesota is at the state goal, but that because wolf populations in other states and areas of the county are still not up to population goals, all wolves should be protected -- even those in Minnesota where the population is almost twice the size considered recovered. Many people would protect wolves even if they were running the streets of populated areas eating pets for food.
You can’t kill a wolf, period, they say.
Ranchers and livestock producers will tell a different story. They lose mostly young cattle to wolves.
There was one interesting factoid I was unaware of. Whole cattle herds can actually lose overall body weight just from the stress they suffer from random wolf attacks. I never knew that.
The wolf is a top-line predator in Minnesota. They can take down elk and moose and eat thousands of deer annually. Deer hunters in northern Minnesota often tell stories where they sit in a deer stand all day and see multiple wolves wandering through and see not one single deer in an entire season.
Imagine a deer trying to run away in four feet of snow and the wolf can just run across the top of the stuff. The deer does not stand a chance. Wolves eat 70 percent of all moose calves born every year, and we know moose are in big trouble in this state with populations precariously steady but 60 percent lower than just 10 years ago.
I think that like any other animal, wolves need a population that is balanced against the big picture of Minnesota’s wildlife and natural resources. I have no desire to hunt one, but if the populations need to be reduced to a more sustainable level, then de-list the wolf and manage them properly with hunting and trapping for their long-term survival.
By the way, if you want an occasional wildlife-related factoid you can follow me on Twitter @habitatchampion or Instagram at the same handle. Only a few a week, so I won’t fill up your phone.