June 10, 2013

Tom Myrick, communications director
International Wolf Center
3410 Winnetka Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55427
Office: 763-560-7374 ext. 225
Cell: 763-560-7368
Tom Myrick

International Wolf Center Executive Director Rob Schultz responded to last week’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nationwide proposal to remove the gray wolf from the list of endangered and threatened species by calling for vigorous public comment, with a careful fact-based review of the potential outcomes from a significant policy change.

“While recovery efforts on behalf of the gray wolf have been effective, dialogue about the appropriate level of recovery for delisting is likely to be intense. Stakeholders with very different views will have their say during the 90-day comment period, which has yet to be scheduled. We’re not just looking at two sides of a coin, but sifting through a bucket of coins,” says Schultz. “As educators, our role at the International Wolf Center is to ask the hard questions from as many different perspectives as possible, while keeping the facts clear and present.”

The Center will focus in coming weeks on key questions likely to arise from those both favoring and opposing the delisting. One such question is likely to address the wolf population count done by various state agencies.

  • How do states conduct their wolf population estimates?

USFWS and state officials maintain the proposed delisting as a big victory for Endangered Species Act and wolf recovery, and there can be no doubt that the ESA has played a significant and critical role in building and re-establishing wolf populations. However, the public discussion on how many wolves a state should maintain continues, relying on population numbers and the valid ways in which they are collected and calculated. It is said the devil is in the details, and nothing could be truer in the case of counting wolves. Several states are counting their wolf populations in 2012-2013. Until now, no studies of the wolf population in Minnesota had been conducted since the often-quoted 2008 wolf census. Several indices of annual wolf population change indicate that the population has remained stable at 3,000 or has been slightly increasing since 2008.

The methods used to count wolf populations also vary by state. The monitoring methods used are influenced by a number of factors:

  • Type of population (state managed vs. federally protected)
  • Topography
  • Vegetation/foliage
  • Accessibility
  • Visibility
  • Climate
  • Snow depth in winter
  • Person power (volunteer or agency staff)
  • Resources (ground patrol, helicopter and radio telemetry)
  • Collaboration with other agencies or groups

The wolf population that lives within Yellowstone National Park is highly visible. The expansive river valleys and lack of tall vegetation allows observers frequent opportunities to see wolves and count their numbers even from miles away with the use of spotting scopes. Additionally, the park has a host of volunteer “wolf watchers” who spend significant amounts of time in the park monitoring wolf packs and individual animals. These data help park staff collect information about the wolves living in the park and saves the park valuable resources that can be applied elsewhere.

In Wisconsin, trained volunteers collect wolf sightings and complete track and howling surveys for the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Thousands of hours are logged by these volunteers, which frees up DNR staff to analyze these data and combine them with their own radio-tracking data to produce a wolf-census report for the state.

Minnesota is another state that combines multiple data sources to determine the number of wolves on the landscape. Due to dense vegetation and the size of the population, counting every wolf isn’t practical. Therefore, a collaborative effort is made to gather data from research entities and individuals throughout the wolf’s range. This information might come from sightings of wolves on the ground, locations taken using radio telemetry, scent posts or track surveys. Analyzing this data requires DNR staff to incorporate a variety of factors such as road- and human-density, prey populations, vegetative cover, inland lakes and incidence of disease.

This method doesn’t give an exact count, but it does provide a solid number for wildlife managers to use as a starting point. A “confidence interval” describes the probability of a number being higher or lower based on the data available. In Minnesota, the confidence interval for an estimated wolf population is approximately 500. This means that if every single wolf could be counted, results might show that there are between 2,500 and 3,500 wolves. This confidence interval is in place because it is impossible to count every wolf in Minnesota.

Updates on wolf populations in the United States are posted as they become available at archive.wolf.org in the Wolves of the World section.

Additional questions that the Center will address include these:

  • Will removing gray wolves from ESA protections undo some or all recovery efforts to date?
  • How will current and new state management policies be affected by such a change?
  • Will removing the gray wolf from endangered or threatened status have an impact on other species awaiting such protection?
  • How will transferring management of gray wolves to the states impact the future of wolf populations in neighboring states where populations are low or non-existent?
  • Will this delisting proposal result in increased poaching of wolves?
  • What does this mean for humans, livestock and pets that come in conflict with wolves?
  • What threats to wolf populations are not addressed by this proposal?
  • Are there sufficient wildlands and habitat for wolf survival, let alone for population expansion?
  • How would this change impact human tolerance of wolves in the areas where wolf-human conflict has been more frequent?

These and many other wolf-related subjects will be discussed in detail by many of the world’s leading wolf experts at the International Wolf Symposium 2013: Wolves and Humans at the Crossroads, being held in Duluth, Minnesota USA October 10-13, 2013.


The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.