DNR: Minnesota wolf population down slightly; packs grow in size

In this February 2008 photo, gray wolves howl at an exhibit area at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn. A drop in Minnesota's deer population is compelling wolves to travel in larger packs.
John Flesher | AP 2008

Minnesota's wolf population is down slightly, according to the latest survey from the Department of Natural Resources.

The count from this past winter estimates 2,221 wolves in the state. That's down about 200 wolves from last year's survey, but it's nearly identical to the 2013 count, said DNR wolf research scientist John Erb.

"Our wolf population remains healthy. Our wolf range encompasses a very large area of the state and that in itself is a positive attribute that helps ensure good conservation status," Erb said.

The biggest change is in the number of wolf packs. Researchers estimated 374 packs this past winter, down about 100 from last year. The packs are also slightly larger and are prowling larger territories, because of a drop in the deer population, Erb said.

Packs require larger areas to meet their nutritional demands to maintain a competitive pack size. Average pack size grew this year to 5.1 wolves, up from 4.4 wolves. Their average territory size also grew, from 58 square miles to 73. Erb expects the wolf population to increase along with deer numbers.

Minnesota's wolf population has grown from fewer than 750 animals in the 1950s. It peaked at around 3,000 wolves in 2004.

Hunters killed 272 wolves last year during Minnesota's third wolf hunting season. There will not be a wolf hunting season this year, after a federal judge in December placed Great Lakes wolves back under endangered species protection.

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