Minnesota wildlife officials have finalized a plan to keep the state's wolf population stable for the next decade. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources would aim to keep the population between 2,200 and 3,000 animals, which is where it has been for about 30 years.
Gray wolves are an endangered species managed under federal protections. But multiple attempts have been made since the 1990s to remove those protections and return wolf management to the states.
Wolves have thrived in Minnesota — the only place in the Lower 48 that never trapped and poisoned them to extirpation. The state still has the biggest wolf population in the country outside of Alaska. Fluctuating around 2,700, their numbers have not changed much since the 1990s. They may have plateaued here — inhabiting just about every place that prey and human tolerance will allow.
Much of the DNR wolf plan would only go into effect if wolves are once again removed from the endangered species list. The Trump administration was the last to try in 2020. Before Trump, federal officials under every administration since President Bill Clinton also tried to declare that wolves in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest have recovered. Each time, federal courts restored protections, saying the animals have not returned to enough of their native habitat.
The DNR plan does not say whether it will immediately allow a wolf hunt, should federal protections be lifted. But it does lay out parameters for potential hunting seasons. No hunting would be allowed if the wolf population were to fall under 1,600. If that happened, the DNR would also immediately begin studying how to bring numbers back up. For as long as the population remains between 2,200 and 3,000, a hunt would allow no more than 20% of the population to be taken. Studies show that as long as human-caused mortality remains under 30%, the wolf population will be stable, according to the plan.
The DNR also calls for increased public support for non-lethal measures to help reduce wolf depredations on farms and ranches, such as fencing, fladry, birthing pens and carcass disposal.
The plan took two years to update, and included input from thousands of citizens as well as advocacy groups, deer hunters, trappers, ranchers and tribal leaders. The DNR conducted several surveys, which found that the vast majority of Minnesotans want a healthy wolf population. Hunters, ranchers and residents who live closest to wolves tend to say they want to keep the animals in the state, but would prefer smaller numbers. Residents in more urban areas tend to say that they would like the wolf population to remain where it is or grow.
Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the plan ensures the future of wolves in the state.
It "better reflects the wolf-friendly values of most people in Minnesota," she said.