A first draft of the updated Minnesota wolf management plan should be available before the end of the year.
The original plan was published in 2001 and hasn’t been changed since.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say the original plan was developed through extensive public input, supported by the federal government and was intended to provide guidance for Minnesota to transition from federal to state wolf management authority but new information and changes since means there is a need for an updated plan.
So with the real possibility the gray wolf could be removed from the endangered species list sooner rather than later it’s important that the state have a fresh set of management guidelines in place.
In March 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule that considers the delisting of gray wolves as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act in the contiguous United States.
Wolves in the U.S. outside Alaska first received endangered species protections in 1975 when fewer than 1,000 remained — all of them in Northeastern Minnesota — after centuries of unregulated hunting, trapping and poisoning.
Now there are an estimated 5,000 wolves, mostly in the upper Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountain west, and management could soon be back in local hands, where it was briefly several years back.
The most recent delisting effort, in 2012, allowed state agencies to hold wolf trapping and hunting seasons for three years until late 2014 when a federal judge ruled that the agency had erred in taking wolves off the endangered list too soon.
That decision was upheld in 2017 by a federal appeals court decision, keeping wolves protected across the region to this point.
According to the most recent wolf population survey in the state done in 2018, there are approximately 465 packs in Minnesota that average a mid-winter pack size of 4.85. That number puts the population estimate at about 2,655.
Twenty years earlier, in 1988, the DNR estimated the population size to be approximately 1,521 wolves in 233 packs. In 1998 the pack size was estimated to be 385 with a population of 2,445 wolves statewide.
Of course, there is also the real possibility that lawsuits could delay the process – wherever it is at. Finding out that information is easier said than done. The last update to gray wolf delisting information on the Service’s web site was done in January of this year.
The last time a news release went out – announcing an open house forum type deal for discussion in Brainerd – was in the summer of 2019.
The most recent relevant news is U.S. Congressman Tom Tiffany out of Wisconsin recently introduced legislation to delist the wolf in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Wyoming. The idea behind that is to avoid the courts and public comment but similar legislation has been offered in the past and has gone nowhere.
While Tiffany probably hopes things will be different this time, considering the current state of things in Washington D.C., chances are there won’t be any votes anytime soon.
Whether the wolf is delisted or not, the DNR and state tribal authorities still need a current plan in place for management.
Since 2019, with help from a 20-member Wolf Advisory Committee formed earlier this year have, the DNR has been moving in that direction.
Wildlife officials from the agency met four times each with the Wolf Advisory Committee and a technical committee made up of state, federal, tribal and university wolf experts, this past summer and fall and has been taking public input as well.
In fact, there is a survey online at the moment where anyone interested can participate and offer their opinions via a series of questions and answers designed to assess public sentiment.
The plan from there is to write and release the first draft of the plan, which the DNR says is based on “wildlife science, the societal interests of Minnesotans, and recommendations of committees and tribes.”
During the winter and spring of 2021, the DNR will evaluate the comments and prepare a final plan for approval from the DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen’s office.
What happens from there is anybody’s guess. I’m fairly certain that hunting will be part of that plan as it is a tool used by wildlife officials across the country to manage most animal populations.
Strommen was appointed to the commissioner’s seat by Gov. Tim Walz, who in 2019 threw his support behind an amendment to prohibit sport hunting wolves that was added to a House environmental bill that year.
At the time he said he supported delisting wolves where populations had recovered but not nationwide and that he supported managing the wolf but didn’t think sport hunting was appropriate.
That amendment eventually failed but it is interesting to note that a man who has managed the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 behind the rallying cry, “follow the science,” apparently doesn’t trust the science of wildlife management.
Or at least he thinks he knows better.
Hopefully all the hard work, time and effort, put in by the DNR and all the other volunteers and Minnesotans working on the updated wolf plan, doesn’t go to waste in the name of politics.
To take the online wolf public attitude survey see: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/wolves/wolf-plan.html.