Minnesota wildlife managers say there's been a huge drop in the number of wolves that were killed for predator control.
At a legislative hearing Tuesday, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Dan Stark said the number of wolves trapped or shot for preying on livestock fell by more than half between 2012 and last year, from 295 to 127.
Stark says the mild winter of 2012 made it harder for wolves to hunt deer, so they preyed on livestock more often.
"When we have a severe winter, typically the following summer we see fewer depredation conflicts," said Stark. "When we have a mild winter, we typically higher depredation conflicts."
Dozens of wolf hunting opponents packed the hearing. They continue to call for an end to the sport hunting of wolves, which resumed in 2012 after the animal was removed from the endangered species list.
The DNR estimates the total number of wolves in Minnesota at 2,211, plus or minus 500.
State Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, opposes the wolf hunt. Isaacson said he won't try to stop it in the legislature this year. But he said the state's population estimates are not precise.
"If you go all the way up, we've got a robust population. But if you go all the way down we're right at that floor again, where we're getting to the limit set by the wolf management plan," Isaacson said.
Ed Boggess, the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division director, said the wolf estimates are done according to standard wildlife management principles. And he added the agency keeps closer tabs on the wolf population than most other species.
Hunters say the DNR is doing a good job of managing the wolf population.