MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says the state's wolf population has declined slightly from last year, but not enough to be statistically significant.
The DNR announced Monday that the latest survey on wolves in Minnesota shows there were 374 wolf packs and 2,221 individual wolves in the state's range last winter. That's down from 2,423 wolves from the survey taken the winter prior.
Officials say they survey wolves in the winter because that's the annual low point in wolf populations. Come spring, when pups are born, the population typically doubles. However, when winter rolls back around, many pups don't survive.
Dan Stark, a DNR specialist on large carnivores, said in a press release that wolves are still "well established" in the northern and central Minnesota. The population is also above the state's minimum management goal of 1,600 wolves.
While wolf hunting was banned in Minnesota following a federal ruling late in 2014, there was still a wolf season last year where more than 250 wolves were killed.
But the slight decline in the wolf population probably has more to do with the decline in the white-tailed deer population, the DNR said. The recent back-to-back brutal winters have thinned the deer population, thus making it difficult for packs to find food.
"When prey declines, wolves must eventually re-adjust to the new conditions, which typically means fewer packs and each utilizing a larger territory to meet nutritional demands and sustain a competitive pack size," said John Erb, a DNR wolf research scientist, in a statement.
The most recent survey showed that wolf packs increased in size last year, from an average of 4.4 to 5.1 wolves per pack. Officials say the packs also appear to be hunting in larger territories.
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