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Wolf population in Minnesota holding steady, DNR says

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The number of wolves living in the woods of Minnesota has been holding steady over the past three years.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released its latest wolf population survey Monday, which estimates there were 2,221 wolves in the state this past winter, comprising 374 wolf packs.

That's about 200 fewer animals than the previous year, but the DNR said it's not a "statistically significant" difference.

It's also higher than the DNR's minimum population goal of 1,600 wolves, the agency said.

The DNR says it does its wolf survey every year in the middle of winter, during the low point of the animals' population cycle.

The wolf numbers typically double after pups are born in the spring, although many of the pups don't survive until the following winter, said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR.

Gray wolves have been at the center of controversy for several years. The animals were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act for decades because their numbers were dwindling.

That protection was lifted in 2012 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, and the states then created wolf hunting seasons which were criticized by animal rights groups.

A federal court ruling in December put the wolves back on the endangered species list in the three states, which put an end to the wolf hunting season.

The Humane Society of the United States, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, argued that allowing wolves to be hunted was putting a stop to their recovery in the Great Lakes states.

The group said 1,500 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in the three states since 2012.

During Minnesota's 2014 season, hunters and trappers took 272 wolves, and another 243 died through other means, according to the DNR.

The DNR said its goal for wolf management is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing conflicts between wolves and humans.

The DNR website has more information about the latest survey and about wolf management in Minnesota.

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