There's some good news for Minnesota's gray wolf population.
The latest wolf survey found there has been no significant change in the state's wolf population over the past four winters, the state Department of Natural Resources said Monday, which Dan Stark, a large carnivore specialist for the DNR, says is "further evidence of the health and stability of Minnesota's wolf population."
Last winter, there were 2,278 wolves compared to 2,221 wolves the winter before. This is above both the state's minimum goal of at least 1,600 wolves and the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400.
The DNR survey shows the number of wolf packs has also increased – there were 439 packs last year, up from 374 the year before. This comes as white-tailed deer numbers in the wolves' range has also gone up, meaning the carnivores have to travel less to find dinner.
The survey was done at mid-winter, which is the low point in the annual wolf population cycle. The number of wolves nearly doubles in the spring when the new pups are born, but many of them don't survive to the next winter, the release says.
Not everyone agrees
Howling for Wolves – a local wolf advocacy group – says the state's wolf population hasn't recovered since wolf trophy hunting was legal from 2012-2014.
"The DNR confuses ‘wolf recovery’ with ‘keeping wolves just above the brink of extinction,'" Dr. Maureen Hackett, founder and president of Howling For Wolves, said in the release. "The population levels, still below pre-trophy hunt levels, are drastic, reckless, and unacceptable for responsible wolf recovery and vital genetic diversity."
Wolves in Minnesota were placed on the federal list of threatened species in December 2014 following a federal district court ruling. It makes killing wolves illegal, unless it is in defense of human life, the DNR's website says.
The DNR has a wolf management plan, which hopes to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in the state, while still addressing wolf-human conflicts. But Howling for Wolves argues the DNR needs to do more, like increasing the strength of wolf recovery efforts and preserving Endangered Species Act protections, the release says.