Myths of the Minnesota gray wolf: Part 2
Wolves are eating deer and protecting them in the process.
Saturday, September 18, 2010 - 20:36
THANK YOU: Wolves help white-tailed deer herd health by preying on the sick and weak. (Photo: Jayme Dittmar)
This is my second post exploring people's sentiments to the growing wolf populations in Minnesota. Humans and wolves have lived in conflict since the beginning of the European settlement, probably because the two species are so similar. Both need large tracts of land to travel and survive, and both hunt for nourishment.
Competition for game is a major human-wolf conflict. Some hunters believe that wolves are infiltrating Minnesota hunting lands and taking "our" deer. If they aren't killing them directly, then they are chasing deer off of hunting territories. (Though surveys from the DNR show that overall, both species are increasing and living in mutual areas.)
In 1997, the MNDNR estimated a deer population of 221,000 and a wolf population of 2,450. In 2009, there were approximately 366,000 deer and about 3,000 wolves. According to Tamarac National Wildlife Biologist, Wayne Brininger, though wolves certainly do eat deer, year to year their numbers are impacted more so by severe winters than by wolves and hunters combined.
Also, according to Glenn D. DelGiudice, MNDNR Wildlife Researcher, deer will reside in their usual home ranges, regardless of wolf presence. Studies have shown most of wolves' hunting attempts are brief and unsuccessful. A healthy deer can readily escape a wolf; with speeds of 34 mph and hurdling skills of jumping obstacles over eight feet, they are confident in their abilities. However, the vulnerable deer are not as likely to escape. Wolves primarily prey on the very young, old, starving and sick, which prevents spread of diseases among deer and creates healthier herds overall.
Wolves do not significantly impact deer populations or movements, but they do influence their numbers enough to assist other species. The impacts of deer over browse can cascade to affect species diversity from insects to amphibians to migratory songbirds. Canopy cover, foliage, shrubs and litter depth are essential in habitats for many kinds of wildlife.
In Minnesota the gray wolf is federally protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species, though populations have increased to a level where they may be de-listed within the next year. After being de-listed the USFWS will monitor the species for five years to ensure populations are stable and do not reach below 1,600. However, government agencies and researchers cannot provide this protection alone. The gray wolf will require tolerance and willingness to share the land and its resources from the Northwoods community.
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