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We should be celebrating and managing the recovery of the wolf

A story in last week’s Ely Echo on the feds killing eight wolves between Ely and Babbitt struck a chord, especially on the opener of the 2023 Minnesota firearms deer season.

The trapping zone established was only around one acre in size, and lasted roughly a week, but the USDA trapped and euthanized eight wolves in the established zone.

Due to a variety of factors, the local deer population is nearing a record low for the past couple of decades. The DNR listed a 40 percent decrease from the five-year average for bucks harvested.

What are deer hunters seeing instead of bucks walking by? Wolves. There is no doubt the local wolf population is doing very well. Without any management of this animal, the number of wolves continues to climb. But when their main prey, deer, are not around, wolves will shift and adjust. When they start killing people’s pets, the feds are left with no other option than to kill the wolves which is what happened a couple weeks ago.

Dave Mech is a founder of the International Wolf Center which is based here in Ely. He has studied wolves longer and more in-depth than nearly any other researcher. His synopsis of the current situation is this: Let’s celebrate the recovery of the wolf.

That celebration is missing a key component: management. Why is that? Two reasons. First, there is a group of folks who don’t believe wolf populations should ever be managed. They use this mantra to get enough people to donate to their cause and tie the issue up in the federal courts. Albeit not the courts here but in D.C. where common sense died decades ago.

Second, our state government has shown a complete ineptitude to do anything about this issue. Why? It starts at the top. Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan have said that they oppose wolf hunting and trapping. And their DNR commissioner, Sarah Strommen, is not about to go against her bosses.

So even if there was a break in the legal process, like there was when Minnesota had a wolf season for two years, there is no chance our DNR would even consider the option.

That leaves a lot of angry deer hunters and more and more folks who have either lost a dog or are worried they will, even if they live in town. Our city council needs to strongly look at reducing the deer population in town ASAP or there will be wolf problems right here as well.

During all of this we did like this point from the International Wolf Center:

“We live in wolf country, and we are responsible for our interactions with wildlife. We have been receiving reports of wolves losing fear of humans and it has been linked to food provisioning (feeding) in the area. Provisioning food to wolves can do much more harm than good. While wolves tend to avoid humans, they may lose that fear if they are rewarded with food or if they are not scared away. Please do not feed wolves (intentional or not) and do not let them learn to be comfortable around human-inhabited areas, try to scare them away by making loud noises and making yourself appear larger.”

Along with this advice from local DNR conservation officer Anthony Bermel: “If you live out in the woods or if you’re out grouse hunting or walking your dog, just be aware because there’s been several of these incidents over the last few weeks.”

There was even this report: “One hunter had an encounter with three wolves that ran to his deer shortly after the shot. After getting his deer back from the wolves and field dressing it, the wolves made quick work of the gut pile and then ran down the power line toward the sound of another gunshot.”

The bottom line is this. The wolf population in northeast Minnesota has recovered to a level not seen in decades. This should be celebrated with the establishment of an agreed upon management plan from the DNR, including a hunting and trapping season.

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