Wolf attacks on domestic livestock and pets hit record levels in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2010, most likely because there are more wolves living in both states.
In Minnesota, 15 dogs were killed by wolves, federal officials said, up from an average of just two dogs per year from 2006 to 2008.
Officials verified 130 of 272 complaints -- both records -- involving 139 livestock and poultry and 23 dogs. The verified complaints were 31 percent above the five-year average. One person's safety was threatened by a wolf.
The situation was similar in Wisconsin, which has far fewer wolves than Minnesota. There, wolves attacked livestock on 47 farms, 15 more than the previous high, killing 69 animals. Also, wolves killed 24 dogs and injured 14 more, the most ever.
"The number of dog attacks at or near homes was the highest we've ever seen,'' said Adrian Wydeven, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist and wolf program coordinator.
He said increased human-wolf conflicts are due to a rise in the wolf population coupled with the lack of state authority to remove problem wolves. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin are seeking to remove the wolf from the federal endangered species list and return management to the states, which would allow greater flexibility in controlling problem wolves.
Minnesota's wolf population, last surveyed three years ago, was estimated at between 2,200 and 3,500. In Wisconsin, officials estimate about 690 wolves roamed the state last year. "It's the highest count we've ever had,'' Wydeven said.
The state's goal is about 380 wolves, he said.
Dan Stark, wolf specialist for the Minnesota DNR, said that though his agency doesn't track the state's wolf population annually, there are indications that it has been increasing. A wolf study in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness showed record numbers in 2010. And last year's DNR "scent-post'' survey -- in which scent is placed at 400 routes around the state and the tracks of animals attracted to it are recorded -- also showed record numbers of wolf tracks.
"I don't like to over-interpret one year's results,'' said DNR researcher John Erb. "We were counting tracks, not wolves. Having said that, it's notable that the track index [for wolves] was the highest we've ever recorded. It would suggest wolves were doing quite well last year.''
Stark doesn't believe Minnesota's wolf population is skyrocketing.
"You'll see slight fluctuations from year to year. I think that's all this really is. It's not like the population is taking off,'' he said. The next wolf population survey will be done in 2012-13.
In Minnesota, trappers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services killed 192 problem wolves last year, down slightly from the 196 killed last year. The state Department of Agriculture paid about $96,000 last year to people who lost livestock to wolves. No compensation is paid for lost pets.
Under federal law, wolves in Minnesota can be killed by the public only to protect human life, and only authorized federal and state officials can kill wolves that cause damage to domestic animals. The state's wolf-management plan would allow livestock and pet owners to shoot wolves in certain situations to protect their animals.
Minnesota and Wisconsin officials are hoping the U.S. Interior Department "delists'' the wolf this year, returning management control to the states.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667