The number of wolves in Minnesota was stable for the third year in a row, state wildlife researchers said Monday in their latest survey of the animal’s population.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are 2,221 wolves in the northeast corner of the state; that’s down slightly from the 2,423 counted in the winter of 2013-14, but not a significant difference.
Wolf numbers fluctuate with the number of deer, their primary prey, and the severity of the winter, wildlife officials said. If deer numbers are up, then wolves fare better and their numbers rise. If the winters are mild with little snow, then deer can escape more easily, which hurts wolf numbers.
This year brought a mild winter and a drop in deer numbers, said Dan Stark, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist, so wolf numbers have declined slightly as well. The shortage of prey also showed up in an increase in pack size and in larger than normal hunting territories for each pack — an indication that the wolves have to roam farther to find prey.
Pack sizes, on average, increased from 4.4 to 5.1 wolves, and their average territory increased from 58 to 73 square miles last winter.
“Back in the early 2000s, when deer numbers were high, that’s when we had the highest wolf population,” Stark said. The number of wolves in the state topped out at 3,020 in 2003-04. Since then deer numbers have dropped, in large part because of hunting, and the wolf population has declined with them, he said.
The DNR is now managing deer hunting quotas to increase the state’s deer population.
“That should be good for wolves, too,” Stark said.