DNR releases draft wolf management plan

Gray wolf
In this July 16, 2004, photo, a gray wolf is shown at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn.
Courtesy of the Wildlife Science Center 2004

The state’s population of gray wolves is “resilient and robust,” and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources aims to keep it that way.

That’s the thrust of a new 50-page draft wolf management report the agency released Thursday, which lays out a blueprint for the DNR to follow for the next 10 years to both strengthen wolf conservation and minimize conflicts between people and the Northwoods predator.

“Wolf conservation is a high priority for the DNR and we expect this updated plan to help ensure Minnesota’s wolf population remains healthy,” said wildlife section manager Kelly Straka.

The new plan calls for maintaining a healthy statewide wolf population of between 2,200 and 3,000 wolves. That’s comparable to recent annual estimates of about 2,700 animals.

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Today, according to the draft report, of the estimated 6,000 gray wolves in the lower 48 states, nearly one-half are in Minnesota. 

The plan does not take a position on a possible state wolf hunt, if gray wolves are again removed from endangered species protection. 

The state previously held three wolf hunting seasons, from 2012 to 2014, before a court decision that placed the wolf back under federal endangered species protection.

The draft plan sets a framework for future decision-making about whether to hold a hunting season.

That framework includes ensuring that the wolf population remains viable, that tribal governments are consulted “with a goal of identifying and pursuing a mutually acceptable decision,” and that any decision whether to hold a hunting season be informed by “best available science.”

According to a DNR survey, nearly 50 percent of Minnesotans oppose wolf hunting, with about 41 percent of people supporting a season.

Wolves have long been a divisive critter on Minnesota’s landscape. Many people treasure the presence of the predator in the woods, and value the chance to see a wolf in person, or hear a howl on the landscape.

Wolves hold special cultural and spiritual significance to the state’s Ojibwe bands, for whom the wolf plays a central role in their creation story.

But wolves also inspire fear and anger among some ranchers, hunters and others for their role in killing livestock, occasional pets and deer.

The updated plan incorporates those diverse viewpoints, but also found that an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans — 87 percent— support the long-term persistence of a healthy wolf population in the state.

Among the goals laid out in the plan are to maintain a resilient wolf population, minimize and address human-wolf conflicts, inform the public and conduct research to inform wolf management.

The DNR began work on the revised plan three years ago. The agency released its first wolf management plan in 2001.

It’s holding an informational webinar on the draft plan on July 13. Public comments will be accepted through Aug. 8. It hopes to finalize the plan in the early fall.