Wolves are top predators; they play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.

Wolves are top predators; they play an important role in a healthy ecosystem.

Wisconsin held a wolf hunt in February 2021, following the animal’s delisting under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The hunt had to be stopped after just three days, when licensed hunters killed 216 wolves, far exceeding the state’s allowed quota, reported Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota is now going through a process to update its 2001 wolf management plan.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Wolf  Specialist Dan Stark recently provided some perspective on wolf management in the state.

Although there have been periods of time when wolves were under state management since 2001, they  have mostly been federally managed under the Endangered Species Act with Minnesota DNR primarily monitoring the state’s wolf population.

Now that the gray wolf, Canis lupus, is delisted, it is managed by collaborating state and tribal authorities.

The process to update the state’s plan started in 2020.  

Two different committees have been meeting and providing input.

“Wolf management is more than whether or not we have hunting or trapping seasons.  We are committed to maintaining a healthy wolf population and will continue to coordinate with other stakeholders and managers.  A wolf hunt in the state of Minnesota, if it happens, would not take place this year,” said Stark.

“There are approximately 2,700 wolves in Minnesota — the number has remained mostly consistent over the past five years, within some annual variation. Most areas that can support wolf populations are pretty well established, so we don’t expect to see any increase in wolf numbers in Minnesota. The wolf range is pretty well-defined in Minnesota,” said Stark.

ROLE OF WOLVES IN THE ECOSYSTEM

The ecology of wolves has been studied extensively.  The wolf is a key predator of large ungulates like deer, moose and elk. There is a close relationship between the amount of prey and how may wolves the landscape can support.

Wolves are native animals  and contribute to the overall diversity of wildlife in Minnesota. Prey numbers can also affect wolf numbers, of course.  Higher wolf density can result.  That is demonstrated by pack territory size, which can become smaller in areas where there are plenty of deer.

Where wolf packs get bigger, there tend to be more conflicts with livestock.  

“The thing in Minnesota is that wolves never went extinct.  Minnesota encourages non-lethal methods to reduce wolf predation but no tool is 100% effective. Sometimes conflicts will arise,” noted Stark.  “There is an expectation that if someone is having a problem, we (DNR) will help with trapping and such.”

Getting farmers payments when they lose livestock to wolves has been somewhat of a success. More legislation is in the works to use non-lethal methods to deter wolves. There has been a grant process through Minnesota Department of Agriculture for some years, said Stark.  

SANDRA SKINAWAY

When asked for a reaction to the Wisconsin wolf hunt, Sandy Lake Band Chief Sandra Skinaway had this to say:“I was mad and then I was sad, because I knew that would happen. The minute the wolf was delisted Wisconsin had to go right ahead and have a wolf hunt.”  

Skinaway said she thought that Wisconsin was trying on some level to appease the farmers and wolf hunters. She thought they hadn’t done enough planning ahead of time. They (Wisconsin hunters) hunt with hounds and the state even reimburses them if they lose a hound in the process.

“They have the dogs training when the wolves are having their litters,” said Skinaway, “That’s unfair.”

WOLF PATROL

Wolf Patrol is a group of people that goes out every hound season and monitors and reports any wrongdoing by the hound hunters. Hunters can bait bears, and sometimes wolves also go to the baits.

Skinaway, who has been  a member of Wolf Patrol since 2012, understands that Minnesota might eventually hold a wolf hunt but first it has to have government-to-government meetings with tribes.

Dr. Maureen Hackett is the CEO of Howling for Wolves in Minnesota, holding rallies, wolf walks and trying to educate people about the role of wolves in the ecosystem. The intent of the organization is to help the public see the value of wolves.

Poisoning wolves is illegal in Minnesota. There can be a lot of collateral damage to domestic dogs, coyotes, foxes and even bald eagles.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT  

“When Europeans came to North America, they tried to eradicate the wolf in much the same way they tried to eradicate indigenous people,” said Skinawy.

“I see what’s going on and it’s not right. The wolves are our relatives and they need protection from us,” she said.

Skinaway expressed a perspective on wolves and why she doesn’t think there should be a hunt. “I think wolves suffer from historical trauma, just like some native people. Trauma can affect your DNA and it gets passed down for generations.”

“We see the wolf, Ma’iingan, as our brother,” she continued. “We have a creation story about how the wolf and Anishinaabe walked the Earth and named all the plants, other animals, fish and birds. After that task was done, the pair went back to Creator and said now that their task was done, they would go their separate ways. The Creator said, no, your fates are intertwined, the fate of Anishinaabeg and Ma’iingan are intertwined.”  The hunters target all wolves, not just the problem wolves.”

Skinaway, who went to Fond du Lac College, recommended a book on the Lake Superior Chippewa. The Mishomis Book: the Voice of the Ojibwe by Edward Benton-Banai would be a good resource for people who want to learn more about Anishinaabe creation stories. It includes The Original Man walks the Earth, and other stories.

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