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LETTER…. large population of grey wolves is the primary reason for dangerously low deer and moose numbers

Letter to the Editor:
The Babbitt Conservation Club (BCC) is a Northern Minnesota organization actively promoting scientifically proven game management practices, the shooting sports and firearm safety.  One of the Club’s top priorities is working with our youth to interest them in various outdoor activities such as high school trap shooting and hunter safety classes.
After questions about the low populations of deer and moose at our April 18, 2023 meeting, we thought it was our responsibility to research possible long term effects on the principles that we stand for.  The results revealed some astounding and very troublesome information.
The populations of deer and moose in much of NE MN have been in a downward trend since the late 1980’s.  This is derived from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deer density data (deer per square mile) in a large area of Northeastern Minnesota whose boundary touches or includes Ely, Tower, Wahlsten, Babbitt, Embarrass, Hoyt Lakes, Skibo, Fairbanks, Brimson, Toimi, Two Harbors and Silver Bay.  This data was converted to graph form showing trend, time series and forecast by an independent professional statistician.  The graph was presented to representatives of the DNR at a public wolf management meeting held during the mid-1990’s in Ely, MN.   It was never heard of again.    
There are many factors that can affect big game numbers including predation, harsh winters, poor habitat, disease, etc.  Local woodsmen/women who are very familiar with what goes on in the Northern MN forests mostly agree that a large population of grey wolves is the primary reason for dangerously low deer and moose numbers. 
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who administers the Endangered Species Act (ESA), recommended Minnesota’s wolf recovery population level be a minimum of 1250 wolves with none in the agricultural regions (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1978, 1992).  Actually, the population in winter 1997-1998 was double that and increasing at 4.5% per year (Berg and Benson 1999).  Although average wolf density remained about the same from 1989 to 1997, the wolf population expanded into more agricultural areas and thus increased from an estimated 1625 in winter 1987-1989 (Fuller 1992) to 2450 in 1997-1998 (Berg and Benson 1999).  At that rate of increase, the projected wolf population (in MN) in 2007 was 3,800 (Mech 2001).  Because Minnesota’s wilderness and semi-wilderness are saturated with wolves, the only areas left for the wolf population to colonize are primarily agricultural (Mech 2001).  The BCC projected the 4.5% equation to 2023 and calculated that the current wolf population could be over 6,000 animals.  The DNR’s 2022 estimate is 2700 animals.  The BCC’s number (6000) could be lower, but whatever the REAL number is, be assured that NE Minnesota is carrying the MAXIMUM wolf population that our area can naturally sustain.  
What does all this mean?  The BCC’s interpretation is that with no serious wolf management in Minnesota, wolves will continue to expand their range in agricultural areas and Northeastern Minnesota will continue to be SATURATED with wolves!  This trend does not bode well for future deer hunting prospects.
We think it’s disgusting that radical environmentalists have so much power in Minnesota that their agenda is putting our legacy of big game hunting at risk!  How can we expect young hunters to pick up on family traditions when moose are no longer hunted due to low numbers and deer populations have dropped from a huntable ten animals per square mile to only about one deer per square mile in many Northern areas? It’s easy to lose interest in a sport when there’s no satisfactory conclusion to your hard work and tenacity.  We at the BCC have seen this happening.  Just a few years ago, sight-in days, which were held before deer season, was a major event at our Club.  Young hunters and adults new to deer hunting were all at the ranges rain or shine.  They learned everything from sight adjustments and effective shooting to gun safety and hunting etiquette.  Everyone swapped stories which resulted in a good time being had by shooters and instructors alike.  Unfortunately sight-in days has not been held at our ranges lately due mainly to a lack of interest because of low deer numbers.  Our Club is trying to regenerate vitality in the shooting sports, but it’s an uphill battle.  We need the DNR to get back to game management practices that enhance the fair chase outdoor experience of hunting.  
The BCC suggests a solution to this very real problem:  The DNR should actively work to get wolves delisted.  They have done essentially nothing while others have worked aggressively towards this end.  When management is given back to the State, the DNR should immediately adopt a management plan modeled after the State of Alaska’s, which controls wolves by trapping and hunting every year.  In particularly tough areas where wolves are decimating caribou, moose and deer populations to the detriment of human hunters, Alaska further reduces the predator numbers through intensive management practices.  Results have shown  that a small percentage drop in the wolf population renders a significant increase in the prey species.  (Alaska Department of Fish and Game; 2023).  In our opinion, wolf numbers in Northeast Minnesota should be reduced and managed to a level that would sustain about 10 deer per square mile.  This not only would be a compromise that hunters, conservationists and wolf advocates could all live with, but would stop most of the pet and livestock predation.  Safety demands that wolves should NOT be hunting in and around our towns!  Wolves probably have already reached a point in Minnesota “that wolf control or reduction without poison [which is banned in Minnesota] might require such a major sustained effort that it might have to include both federal and state agents.  The longer this effort is deferred, the more difficult it will be.” (Mech 2001).  This warning from one of the world’s most respected wolf experts is over 20 years old.  
If we all sit back and allow this current debacle to continue, big game hunting in Northern MN as we know it will become a memory of the past - the precious heritage of our ancestors lost to the agenda of an “elite” few. We urge all hunters and conservationists that enjoy our beautiful part of the State to speak up and demand the significant changes that will protect a very important part of our outdoor legacy!
Babbitt Conservation Club Board
Ed Zupancich, President
Julie Huseby, Vice President
Dave Monk, Secretary
Rob Simonich, Treasurer
Ed Putzel, Trustee
Matt Jokela,Trustee
Dave Youngman,Trustee

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