Wolf packs on the rise

Emily Dalnodar

A wolf enthusiast drew packs of people into the St. Paul Student Center Monday night.
David Mech, a world-renowned expert on wolves, spoke to a crowd of more than 100 about the wolf’s upcoming change in the Endangered Species Act. Mech, a University fisheries and wildlife professor, spends each summer living among a wolf pack in the wild for research.
Intense debates about gray wolves, often called timber wolves, began when their numbers climbed from endangered numbers toward normal population criterion.
Minnesota’s wolf population is an estimated 2,200, up from about 600 in 1973 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared them endangered.
To drop from the endangered species list, the population must stay at more than 1,200 in Minnesota and more than 100 in Wisconsin and Michigan. This is the fourth consecutive year these figures meet standards. If numbers stay up through next year, gray wolves will drop from the list, said Bill Berg, Department of Natural Resources wildlife research biologist.
Wolf management will then return to the state level and more specifically, the Department of Natural Resources. And here lies the source of dispute.
“Our greatest concern is the hunting,” said Peter McAnally, University –Morris sophomore and grey wolf activist. “Up north they have a policy. Triple S: shoot them, shovel them and shut up.”
Though hunting is one option for control, it is not seriously considered at this point, Mech said. Popular means to control wolves are regulated by the federal government.
In 1997, officials from the federal government’s deprivation control program killed 218 wolves who threatened livestock or strayed too close to family homes, said Mike Don Carlos, a Department of Natural Resources official.
Nonlethal means are available but without much success, Mech said. Relocated wolves either came back, attacked farms in the new area or were killed by other wolves.
Other attempts include blinking lights and sirens to scare wolves away. “If you don’t make the chickens psychotic, it can work,” Mech told the crowd with a laugh. But he added, it’s not very practical.
Some fear more relaxed control of wolf numbers will only place them on the endangered species list in a few years again.
But federal government officials will work closely with the state after reverting control, Mech said. Any drafted plan must meet federal government approval, and the animal count will be monitored closely.
To ready themselves for the inevitable, wolf interest groups and their opponents plan meetings with state officials starting Friday in St. Paul. The meetings, called Minnesota Wolf Management Roundtables, will continue through summer until a consensus is reached.