WOLF MANAGEMENT PLAN. MN DNR
Reasons for never hunting wolves again: response to Minnesota DNR’s proposed wolf management plan By Dr. Michael W. Fox
The Biden administration is moving to complete what the former Trump administration was setting out to do: De-listing gray wolves from Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011, Congress removed wolves from Endangered Species Act protections in Montana, Alaska, Idaho and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington based on the erroneous view that these in-state wolves were a “Distinct Population Segment” i.e. a different sub-species from the Eastern gray wolf. It is open season for hunting wolves in Alaska, even when mothers are nursing cubs in their dens
In anticipation of this de-listing, the state of Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources DNR) solicited public comment on opening a wolf hunting and trapping season. This was my response:
I have studied the behavior, development and communication of wolves, a highly intelligent. social and empathic species, and edited and published several books on wild canids including in-field research. In my professional opinion as a veterinarian and ethologist, the gray wolf, once close to extinction in its North American range, should remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Even if the wolf is removed from the Federal Threatened Species list in Minnesota. Minnesota, along with all other states with wolves, should not rely on a certain threshold of estimated wolf numbers prior to permitting their trapping and hunting for the reasons set out below.
Essentially, the MN DNR proposed wolf management plan must be considered within a broader One Health framework of ecological restoration/re-wilding. This science and bioethics-based ecocentrism is the antithesis of the anthropocentrism of natural resource “management”, exploitation and purported sustainable “harvesting” of various plant and animal species.
After centuries of wild habitat destruction, fragmentation and degradation by the timber and mining industries; the criminal ecocide of mass-buffalo slaughter and genocide of the Anishinaabe; encroachment by livestock keepers and more recent commodity crop farming (and associated agrichemical pollution) on former prairie grasslands and wetlands, primarily to raise feed for livestock and poultry at home and for export, state and federal wildlife management agencies have a formidable agenda to protect threatened and endangers species and their habitats and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples.
An estimated 96% percent of the world’s mammals, by weight, are humans and their livestock; just 4% are wild. One lesson from the ecology of the wolf is that there are too many of us to live as predators with meat as a dietary staple without causing irreparable damage to the environment.
Some of these habitat changes have enabled the proliferation of white-tailed deer to an estimated one million in Minnesota and the displacement and near-extinction of elk, moose and caribou. The deer numbers have generated a profitable industry with close to 428,000 deer hunters in 2021 killing 184,698 deer. Hunters of small game deposited some 178 tons of lead shot in 2017, according to estimates by the MN DNR, with no data available for deer hunters who are “encouraged” to not use lead shot, rather than prohibited because of the documented poisoning of raptors; some 7% of donated venison is toxic with lead fragments.
The more deer that are killed by hunters, and are reduced by severe winters, along with diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease, Bovine TB and hemorrhagic diseases (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease or Bluetongue spread by gnats in wet, muddy areas where deer may congregate during late summer and early fall), the less food there is for the wolves. Wolves are then likely to go for livestock especially when not protected with non-lethal predator controls.
In sum, too many deer hunters and lower deer numbers will mean more wolf predation on livestock and wolves being gut shot so they run off, die slowly and are not found on the illegal killers’ properties.
Wolf numbers tend to be self-regulating since a wolf pack that has no prey in one area will move to another and may enter the territory of other packs, increasing the probability of conflicts, injuries and death. Most significantly, natural population control in wolves is density-related, and fewer females are born when the population is high. But hunting can disrupt pack stability and viability and more females are born when people are killing wolves.
Many wolves also die from hunting injuries, starvation and various diseases. Some, like distemper and parvovirus, are passed on from infected free-roaming dogs that should be controlled as well as free-roaming and feral domestic cats that compete with small carnivores and infect other wildlife with several diseases including toxoplasmosis, an issue yet to be addressed by the MN DNR and MN Dept of Public Health.
When deer numbers are low, deer hunters and outfitters call for more wolf kills, a management practice that is contradictory since wolves are self-regulating in their numbers and, as field research has demonstrated, help maintain the health of deer herds and prevent them from over-grazing/browsing, which facilitates re-afforestation. A healthy, robust population of wolves would help stem incursions by coyotes and reduce their competitive impact on smaller carnivores.
As for commercial trapping and snaring, which are fundamentally inhumane and are managed by the DNR, the public health consequences are considerable. Foxes and other furbearers kill rodents and consume ticks that carry Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, which are now becoming a significant public health issue in many states.
All insectivores should be protected as part of environmental health maintenance and public health protection along with rodent-consuming carnivores.
The MN DNR’s wolf management plan must be considered in a broader, One Health, ecological perspective beyond mere wolf numbers which can vary from year to year since there are collateral concerns that must be addressed with regard to environmental health, biodiversity and public health. To help head off the Anthropocene climate and extinction crises every state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) should rebrand and call themselves state Departments of Nature Restoration and Protection (DNRP).
In conclusion, the sympathy and respect for wolves as fellow hunters in our ancestral past and from whom the domesticated dog became our loyal companion and family member were supplanted by antipathy, prejudice, persecution and lupophobia. It would demonstrate enlightenment and support for all life systems to restore that sympathy and respect through a more humane and science-based wolf management plan for the good of all species.