By Tom Gable, Voyageurs Wolf Project
Is it dangerous for wolves when biologists share photos of wolf pups in a den, GPS locations of where wolves have traveled, or trail camera footage of wolves in an area? We at the Voyageurs Wolf Project have had many people tell us that it is and that we are putting wolves at risk.
For example, we have had many express sentiments similar to: “Please don’t share photos of the pups in the den because the evil hunters will find and kill the pups.” But do wolf biologists like ourselves really endanger wolves and make them more susceptible to hunters or poachers when we share such information with the public?
The answer is a resounding “No” for many areas where wolves live! However, in areas that are very open with little tree cover (e.g., some portions of western North America) or where wolves are living among dense human populations, the answer could be different.
Photo courtesy of the Voyageurs Wolf Project
Regardless, we know of no wolf biologist who would share information or data that could be used in negative or harmful ways. On the Voyageurs Wolf Project, we carefully review and assess what data we make public to ensure we are not increasing the mortality risk of wolves. However, given the concern many folks have expressed to us about what we share, we thought it would be valuable to provide a bit more detail on why we (and other biologists) are comfortable sharing the information we do.
First up: sharing photos or videos of pups in dens. We can say confidently that sharing photos of pups at dens does not put wolves or their pups at risk. In northern Minnesota and similar areas, wolves typically have pups in dens that are in rock crevices, under downed trees, or in dug out areas around or under tree roots. Often dens are well-concealed, in remote locations, and not “obvious”.
In typical wolf pack territories, which are often >100-150 square kilometers, there are an incredible amount of rock crevices, downed trees, and similar areas. For someone to try to find a den using a photo or video would be like looking for the tiniest needle in an extra-large jumbo haystack while wearing a blindfold.
For perspective: we try to identify and document as many dens as possible every year on our project, but we would never try to blindly find a wolf den in a pack territory. Simply put: it would be a fool’s errand.
Similarly, sharing maps of the travels of GPS-collared wolves or where wolf pack territories are does not endanger wolves. Anyone who has spent any time in the wilds of northern Minnesota has quickly realized that wolves/wolf packs occupy the entire area (this is likely the case for much of wolf range in North America and Eurasia). In our area, there are scats and tracks on virtually every logging road in the area, and most people who put up trail cameras in the area get videos/photos of wolves. The information we post adds nothing new for possible poachers.
The Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem has supported a stable dense wolf population since at least the late 1980’s. Thus, sharing with the public that wolves and wolf packs occupy the entire study area is not sharing “secret” or “sensitive” information.
Photo courtesy of the Voyageurs Wolf Project
Some have feared that “hunters” will use maps of GPS-collared wolves to go kill them. If someone was trying to do that, all we would facetiously say is “Go for it and good luck!”
By the time we share GPS-locations with the public, wolves have already left those areas and even if they hadn’t, the Minnesota Northwoods are so dense that it would be practically impossible to “sneak” up on a wolf. Wolves would detect a person well-before they could ever get close enough for a shot.
Furthermore, just because a wolf traveled through an area at some point does not mean it is going to be coming back through that spot again any time soon. Our trail cameras can attest to this. Thus, using maps of GPS-locations to target wolves would be futile.
The last point worth discussing: most people who express their concern to us are requesting we remove information to protect wolves from the “hunters”. Unfortunately, this is an overly broad, blanket statement. Although it is true that most illegal killing of wolves in our area happens during deer hunting season, we think that painting with such a broad brush is inaccurate. That is, while most poachers are hunters, most hunters are not poachers. Notably, Minnesota currently does not have a wolf hunting or trapping season.
We know and work with many hunters in the area who would never shoot a wolf illegally or engage in the kind of conduct that many who follow our project on social media associate with “hunters” or hunting. In fact, we know many hunters who find poaching of wolves or other wildlife detestable (even if they aren’t big fans of wolves themselves).
However, this is not a statement of support for or against hunting from our project. Rather, we are simply trying to cut through some of the polarization and share a factual perspective of what “hunters” in our area are really like.
Many hunters in our area have actually been very helpful to and supportive of our project by letting us access their private property, sending us trail camera photos of wolves, and sharing wolf observations with us. We are appreciative of this help as it helps us get a better understanding of wolves of the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem.
Our project really appreciates the concern for wolves that our viewers have, but we assure you we would never post anything that could in any way be of value to anyone who seeks to use it to harm wolves.
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.