Don't feed the wolves: Pups create north woods dilemma

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A litter of grey wolf pups may be doomed because of their contact with the humans who can't resist feeding them.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that seven pups have taken up residence near Hugo’s, a bar and general store at the junction of two rural highways in Brimson, 35 miles north of Duluth. Wolf pups typically remain near a rendezvous site and adults bring back portions of whatever they might kill to feed them.

Local residents have dropped by to observe the pups, which weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. They frolic, lie in the road, chase grasshoppers or rest in the shade of a pine tree at Hugo’s. An adult wolf has also been seen.

The pups have become bolder, approaching people in Hugo's parking lot. Gary and Jody Hepola, the owners of the bar, report that some of the curious have fed the creatures.

“We’ve watched people throw food out their car windows,” Jody Hepola said. “Someone put out a bucket of food and a bag of food.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discourages feeding the pack because it could threaten their very survival.

“These aren’t behaving in a way we’d expect from wild wolves,” said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR in Grand Rapids. “If the behavior doesn’t change and they don’t move on, it’s going to end poorly for the wolves.”

A nearby cabin owner erected a hand-lettered cardboard sign that reads: “Do not feed the wolves. They need to learn how to fend for themselves.”

“This isn’t the wolves doing anything wrong,” Stark said. “It’s something people are doing wrong to encourage the wolves’ behavior. When they’re not responding negatively to human presence, that’s a problem.”

A DNR conservation officer has tried hazing the wolves, Stark said, to get them away from the road but that hasn't dislodged them. Stark said it isn’t practical to trap and relocate the pups. If they were released nearby, they would likely return to the rendezvous site, and if they were released far away, they probably wouldn’t survive without the adults.

Grand Marais photographer Paul Sundberg, who captured the accompanying image, is also worried about how tame the pups appear.

“If you start feeding wildlife like that, you’re dooming it to death,” Sundberg said.

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