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2012 MN DNR Plan for Public Taking of Wolves "Just like we do those other species."

posted Apr 1, 2014, 1:34 PM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Aug 25, 2014, 8:30 AM ]

Plan for the Public Taking of Wolves, Fall 2012.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR)
Dan Stark, MN DNR Large Carnivore Specialist.

In this video, Dan Stark, the MN DNR wolf specialist, talks about the data that the DNR collects on wolf-pack size, territory size, and population size; and how it has set up the 2012-2013 wolf hunting & trapping seasons in order to collect data on hunting & trapping success rates (that is, how many wolves the hunters and trappers will be able to kill, and thus how many licenses should be issued). He takes care to point out that, although livestock depredation is the primary wolf/human conflict of concern, the initial wolf hunting & trapping season is not intended to address that conflict. Of course, there's an awful lot that he doesn't say. For example, he doesn't say that the major motivation for the hunting and trapping seasons is to provide recreational hunting and trapping opportunities. Also, he doesn't say how the harvest levels might be set in the future, potentially with much higher levels of human-caused mortality based upon wolf-reproduction studies that indicate that wolf populations can "sustain it." When he talks about the MN Wolf Management Plan, he only talks about two parts of it: 1) lethal depredation control and 2) hunting and trapping. Of course, there's much more to the MN Wolf Management Plan than that, but although the DNR title for this video is "Wolf Management Insights," he's just not going to deal with the rest of it. And although he gets pretty deeply into the details of the hunting and trapping seasons, he's also not going to deal with any of the other public concerns over the recreational killing of wolves; so some of those concerns are discussed below in the section titled "Critique by SS-Slocum.info."

Transcription.

00:05 On Minnesota's wolf population.

The wolf population in MN is estimated to be about 3,000 wolves. That's based on a 2008 survey that the DNR did. The DNR conducts periodic wolf population surveys to come up with the specific population estimate, but we also do annual track surveys and a carnivore scent-post survey that give us annual indices of what the population is doing. It basically gives us a trend as to whether the population may be increasing or decreasing from one year to the next. In 2011, we had the highest levels ever recorded on those surveys. So the population is at or above that 3,000 level since our last survey, and that's a mid-winter population estimate. The wolf population goes through an annual cycle, where in the Spring with pups being born, there could be as many as 5,000 or more wolves based upon reproduction and the number of pups in the population, but throughout the year, wolves die from a number of causes, they could be natural or human-caused. So the population is going to decline from that point, and typically those surveys are done during the Winter months when the population is the most stable, and when you also have a better opportunity to observe wolves because of snow conditions: you can see tracks, and you can see wolves better from planes because there's not any tree canopy.

01:54 On Minnesota's Wolf Management Plan.

The objective of the MN Wolf Management Plan is to ensure the survival of the wolf, and to address conflicts between wolves and humans. There's a minimum population goal of at least 1,600 wolves, and that's really a  trigger point or a threshold that, if the population ever started to decline and went below that level, we'd need to figure out what was going on and try to recover the population as quickly as possible, at or above 1,600 wolves. So it's not a management objective, but it is the minimum population level that our Wolf Plan will allow.

02:43 On reasons for managing Minnesota's wolf population.

We manage the wolf population just like we do many other wildlife species in the State. The primary conflict with wolves is livestock depredation, and so we have a depredation-management program in place to address that. We hope to be able to evaluate hunting and trapping as other tools to address some of those depredation issues in the future, but this year the wolf season is intended just to gather additional information on the wolf population, and to be able to gauge hunting and trapping success rates, because we've never had a regulated hunting or trapping season for wolves in MN. Consistent with the mission of the DNR, we hunt and trap, and we have different seasons for different species that we're responsible for managing. Wolves are new to that, but we're going to manage them just like we do those other species.

03:53 On the target harvest.

There's a target harvest of 400 wolves for this year's season. That's an estimate that we've established as a level of the wolf population that could be taken through hunting and trapping without having any negative population effect. There's a lot of information available that's been published on different wolf populations throughout North American that would indicate that wolves can sustain a higher level of human mortality than that, but because this is a new season, we want to start out at a lower level and be able to evaluate, specifically, hunting and trapping success, so we can use that information to inform future seasons.

04:53 On how the DNR will track the wolf harvest.

The system that's in place to close the season when we reach the target of 400 wolves includes an online tracking system that, when each wolf is taken and registered, it gets included in the total take of wolves. There's also a way to track that through a hotline number. So hunters and trappers are responsible for checking the status of the season and knowing whether the season is open or closed.  Once we reach those target harvests in different zones or for different seasons, we'd initiate closing the season. The website and hotline would have a message that would tell hunters and trappers that the season is closed.  As well, the media will likely be tracking that and reporting on it. So there's a safety mechanism in place to assure that we don't exceed the harvest level that we've established for this year. Because we have not had a hunting and trapping season for wolves, we don't have information on what hunting and trapping success rates are going to be. For other species, we typically sell a certain number of licenses with an expected success rate, and that's how we manage those seasons. But for wolves, it's a little bit different, and so that's why we have that system in place.

06:24 On how hunters and trappers will report their take.

If a hunter or trapper takes a wolf, they need to register it by 10:00 pm the day they take that wolf. They can do that in one of three ways: 1) at a big game registration station, or 2) online, or 3) by phone. Just like a hunter would do for registering a deer. So that allows us to track the daily totals of the  number of wolves that are taken during the season, and to track the progress of the season. There's an additional step that hunters and trappers need to do, and that's to bring in the wolf for a carcass tagging and inspection, where DNR staff are going to be collecting information from those wolves, and taking different samples so that we can use that information to evaluate the season and the population.


Dan Stark, MN DNR Large Carnivore Specialist
Dan Stark, MN DNR Large Carnivore Specialist.



Summary by SS-Slocum.info

Mr. Stark describes the wintertime surveys that the MN DNR does to estimate wolf population numbers in the State. He clarifies that the "minimum population goal" is not a goal to be reached, but rather a population level that would indicate that the goal of "ensuring the survival of the wolf" had not been reached.

He talks briefly about the MN wolf-depredation management program and how the recreational hunting and trapping seasons might someday be a part of that--but that for now, the recreational seasons are only designed to gather information about the wolf population, and about hunting and trapping success rates. He explains that this information will be used to set the number of licenses, bag limits, dates, etc. for future seasons.

He explains that the plan is to manage wolves "just like other species," apparently without consideration for the major differences in people's motivations for hunting and trapping wolves compared to other species.

He says that the 2012-2013 target harvest of 400 wolves was set as a number that could be taken without having any "negative population effect." Although studies have shown that "wolves can sustain a higher level of human mortality than that," this "low" target harvest was cautiously set at 400 wolves in order to gather "information to inform future seasons." Presumably, the plan for future seasons is to set higher harvest levels, closer to the limits of what the State's wolf populations can "sustain."

Finally, he describes the registration and tallying system that will be used to gather information about the hunting and trapping seasons, and to end them in each zone as their harvest targets are reached.


Critique by SS-Slocum.info (3/21/2013)

Mr. Stark does not say anything about the following goals for the humane treatment of wolves (because these are not MN DNR goals):
  • Find optimal harvest levels at which stable and healthy wolf populations are maintained without subjecting wolves to undue stress (i.e. without forcing them to take "emergency measures" to recover). Harvest numbers don't tell the whole story. The rest of the story is that wolves struggle to live their lives (as individuals and families), and the more they're stressed, the more they strain to recover. Many animal-protection advocates recognize the need for a harvest, but they want it to be optimal in this way.
  • Target individual wolves, packs, and agricultural areas according to their relative risks of livestock depredation and other human conflicts. Take problem wolves first, and others only as necessary.
  • Protect non-problem wolves from wolf hunters and trappers whose motives might be destructive. One of the problems with recreational hunting and trapping seasons is that they authorize the taking of wolves arbitrarily by individual hunters and trappers, not necessarily according to any approved plan. Non-problem wolves are sometimes killed out of irrational fear or hatred, for trophies, or even out of a desire for extermination. Some deer hunters kill wolves in order to improve their deer hunt. Some trappers kill wolves to keep them from "stealing" the animals they've trapped or the bait they've cached. Some farmers and ranchers kill or approve the killing of non-problem wolves in order to avoid problems with livestock depredation--without looking for other solutions (e.g. hazing, electric fencing, etc.).


Metadata

Source (MN DNR Wolf Management page): http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/mgmt.html

Original MN DNR video: http://youtu.be/jajCZbtUkV0

Keywords: minnesota, politics, wildlife, wolves, wolf, management, plan, livestock, depredation, control, hunting, trapping, public, taking, season, small-game, big-game, non-game

Transcription by Scott Slocum (www.ss-slocum.info).