DNR links poor deer harvest to wolves, weather

What is turning into an abysmal firearms deer season has gotten the attention of the Minnesota DNR. And while last year’s tough winter limited population growth, there’s a growing trend to look at the impact of wolves as well.
In the first three days of the season, where the vast majority of deer are harvested, the numbers around Ely fell nearly 50 percent from 215 in 2021 to 111 in 2022 in Deer Permit Area 118, which is much of the Ely area.
A number of hunters report seeing as many or more wolves than deer, yet Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has refused to consider a wolf hunting season.
Yet even the DNR has attributed the poor hunting season in the Ely area to wolves.
“The biggest drivers for these low harvest rates are due to the already low populations,” said Jessica Holmes the Area Wildlife Manager in Tower. “Winter severity index is our biggest driver for the deer populations in northern Minnesota. As you know we had another harsh winter and most DPAs were sitting in the severe WSI category.
“We are also seeing surplus killing occurring of deer by wolves specifically in DPA 118 and 119 during the winter 2021-2022.
“We are certainly still rebuilding populations especially on public land. Current populations are not able to sustain an increased lottery or transition from Bucks Only to low lottery. Recovery takes time, mild winters and good quality habitat.
“Winter 2021-22 weather was moderate or severe with deep snow fall over most northern deer permit areas in the northeast region. During severe winters, snow shelter and forage availability become more important. In deep snow, deer have more difficulty moving around and become more susceptible to predation.
“Many northern permit areas are still struggling to recover deer numbers. As a result, many areas will again have lower antlerless permit offerings or will be bucks only. Hunters can expect deer populations to remain low despite conservative antlerless or no antlerless harvest.
“In the northeast region, three interrelated factors have the most impact on the deer population: forest habitat quality, winter severity, and predation. Forest cover, food availability and predator numbers, as well as hunting pressure, vary across the landscape and can make a big difference on deer populations at a local level.
“Differences in seasonal weather and deer survival, especially over winter, greatly affect local deer numbers. Deer populations are typically higher on private land as opposed to public land. Area with agricultural will naturally lead to higher deer populations as well.
“The 2022 deer season framework continues to be ‘conservative’ in northern St Louis and Lake County, to protect adult breeding does and in turn increase population growth through fawn production.”