DNR TALKS WOLF KILLING WISH FOR WHEN THEY ARE DELISTED

Last night I attended the Minnesota Moose webinar hosted by the International Wolf Center. The webinar guest speaker was lead moose researcher for the DNR, Glenn Delgiudice. This was the third webinar by the DNR in the month of October related to wolves.

For those that may not know or don't remember, Glenn Delgiuidice's name came to be known more back in 2015 when there was a lot of controversy surrounding his moose study where several moose calves died. Around the same time the study came under scrutiny a veterinarian by the name of Erika Butler claimed to have been forced out of the agency after she objected to the way the moose study was being handled. 

Erika Butler story in the Timberjay

In the Timberjay article Erika Butler said she had to tiptoe around Delgiudice and that he was volatile at times. Whether any of that is true is anyone's guess but it highlighted the issue with collaring calves and attempts to stop it. Petitions to end the collaring sprang up - like this one: Stop the DNR study which collars newborn moose calves. Staggering mortality of calves associated with abandonment by moms after researcher contact and as the backlash continued and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did nothing to stop it the governor stepped in to halt the study. Gov. Dayton halts all moose-collaring due to death rate


In the following years after the collaring fiasco Delgiudice has been a big proponent of lowering wolf numbers to save moose. He pushed for lowering wolf numbers before it was determined brainworm was the primary cause of moose decline and he is pushing to lower wolf numbers after he found out brainworm is the primary cause of moose decline. 

Last nights webinar provided basic information on moose, most of which has been available to the public for quite some time through the DNR website and various articles that have been written. The only thing that stood out to me as being somewhat different is the angle Delguidice is trying to take now. Or since he works for the DNR I'll say the angle the DNR is trying to take. 

Once the wolves are delisted, and that seems to be imminent under the Trump administration, Delgiudice would like to lower wolf numbers in the primary moose range. 

I guess this should't be surprising since it appears to be the entire purpose of the three wolf webinars. The first two presenters, Dan Stark and John Erb, were very factual and quite removed from any implication of a wolf hunt or trapping season. Although some of their "facts" are debatable like Dan Stark saying it wasn't the DNR that was responsible for the wolf hunting seasons it was the legislature, overall the first two webinars appeared good. They were clearly the work up for what Delgiudice would propose. 

Now, if you didn't sit in on in-person wolf hearings, read all the documentation obtained from the DNR through the Freedom of Information ACT and participate in the battle to protect wolves back in 2012-2015 you might not know where I am going with this so I'll tell you. 

Wolves will be delisted come first of the year 2021 according the USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service). Governor Tim Walz who use to fully support wolf hunting and trapping when he was a U.S. Rep for MN did a total 180 as governor and to every wolf advocates surprise said he supported legislation to ban the recreational hunting of wolves. 


Back in 2015 Tim Walz was one of very few Democrats to co-sponsor a bill to delist wolves in the Great Lakes Region and strip citizens of their right to judicial review under the Endangered Species Act. At that time if the bill would have passed wolves would have been permanently delisted and the DNR had planned to resume the wolf hunting and trapping season. 


So the keyword that Walz uses is he is against "sport hunting" now, that doesn't mean he is against managed control by wildlife agencies or "wolf studies". This brings me back to the webinar. 

In the webinar Delgiudice built up to his appeal for lowering wolf numbers in moose range. He talked history, research, deer, etc... When it came to deer he discussed what the DNR is doing to cut moose exposure to the parasite brainworm. To limit exposure, he said, they manage deer at a level of 10 per square mile in moose range. Outside of moose range deer are at 23 per square mile. When someone asked if we had a Moose Management Plan in place he referenced the only one Minnesota has, it's from 2011. 


Here is what the Moose Management Plan from 2011 states:


Full 2011 Moose Management Plan

As you can see, the 10 deer per square mile isn't new for moose range. This was already implemented BEFORE the DNR study showed brainworm was the PRIMARY cause of adult moose decline. The report showing that brainworm was the primary cause was not released and reported on until 2017. 



Not only did the 2011 Moose plan say that deer should be kept to 10 psm it also said that there should be a ban on deer feeding in primary moose range and yet there isn't. Here is a photo from the DNR mapping out primary moose range.


Here is a photo taken from the DNR that specifies which counties have banned deer feeding. 


The above ban on feeding was to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease between deer and has nothing to do with moose.

So even after the DNR found out that the primary cause of adult moose decline was brainworm they've not banned deer feeding in moose range and they still only manage at 10 deer per sq mile.

Here is what Delgiudice didn't mention in the webinar. Back in 2016 a lot of pressure was being put on the DNR to do something to save moose. Hunter's put pressure on because they want to hunt moose and moose advocates put pressure on because they want to save moose. The hunter's want wolves killed to save moose but since the wolves were placed back on the endangered species list in December 2014 the DNR couldn't give them what they wanted. Since the study they were involved in was showing brainworm as the primary cause of moose decline they proposed lowering the deer number to 3 per square mile in area 126. 



In the article linked above DNR wildlife populations manager Steve Merchant says the following:

He refers to AVAILABLE science in 2011 which looked much different to the AVAILABLE science in 2016. In 2016 the DNR had a clearer picture of what was the primary cause of moose decline so the DNR proposed in one area of moose range to keep deer density at 3 deer per square mile. That didn't sit well with the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association and Dave Ingebirgsten, both of which support wolf hunting.

In the above article Merchant acknowledges that they have the scientific info that backs up their 3 deer psm proposal. Ingebrigsten of course denies deer are the primary problem but we have seen with the scientific evidence today that he was wrong. 

(FYI: author of the article, Dennis Andersen, is pro wolf hunting - keep that in mind while you read)

Here is proof that deer were managed at 10 psm before 2016. 



So even though there has been a rapid decline of the number of moose in Minnesota since 2009, the Moose Management Plan was in effect in 2011, and since 2017 they knew the primary cause of that decline was brainworm, the DNR still hasn't changed the number of deer allowed in moose range. 

In the webinar Delgiudice basically says, and I am paraphrasing - "look, we've done what we can to help moose but the last thing we need to do, which is lower wolf numbers in moose range, isn't possible because they are on the endangered species list but once they are removed we need to look at this as a way to boost calf survival which raises the moose population."

Of course, if you know nothing about the fight to protect wolves in Minnesota and you support killing one native species to save another, everything Delgiudice said in that webinar will sound completely reasonable. If wolf advocates object you'll likely think it is the wolf advocates that are being heartless and unreasonable but here are the facts...

Although Delgiudice said that wolf predation accounted for 2/3 of calf loss in their study he doesn't draw the connection to health impaired adults. He admits that 40% of the adult moose killed by wolves in their study were already health impaired and likely would have died anyway. So if an adult moose is health impaired how does she protect her calf? She can't! Here is a video of a moose infected with brainworm. 


What was also covered in all three DNR webinars is the fact that the higher the deer numbers are in Minnesota the higher the wolf population. The DNR biologists know and admit this as do all wildlife biologists around the world. It is not a secret. Wolf numbers rise and fall depending on their primary prey which in Minnesota is deer. So now you have two benefits of lowering the deer numbers:

1. It lowers the chances of moose contracting the killer parasite brainworm
2. It naturally lowers the wolf population which helps moose calves.

But when you have politicians and special interest groups breathing down your neck to lower wolf numbers you don't talk about deer removal, you focus on wolf removal, which is what Delgiudice did in his webinar.

FACTS:

We have an estimated 1,000,000 deer in Minnesota. We have an estimated 2,655 wolves. 

A study from 2013-2017 showed the primary cause of moose decline is brainworm. The secondary cause of moose decline is wolves. 

The DNR is proposing we lower wolf numbers in moose range to save moose but haven't changed the way they manage deer in moose range since 2011.

They proposed a deer management change in moose range in 2016 of 3 deer psm but politicians and the MN Deer Hunter's Association stepped in to say NO WAY! 

Wolf advocates say no way to wolf hunting and trapping so now the DNR presents their case it differently. 

In 2012 wolf hunting and trapping was presented to the public as a way of sticking to the original wolf plan (it actually didn't) but then the following information was exposed through the Freedom of Information Act and people got to see why they really wanted a wolf hunting and trapping season.

So now it is being presented as a way to save the moose. 

Delgiudice made it clear in the webinar that he is only talking about moose range and not other areas of Minnesota wolf country so someone asked "do you think there will be kind of a competition between harvesting wolves in moose range to help the moose management vs. harvesting wolves in areas where depredation control is needed?" What was discussed is if there would be a tug of war over who gets to control wolves in their areas. So Delgiudice starts to talk about balance. He says management is all about balance, clearly forgetting we have 1,000,000 deer and only 2,655 wolves. He proceeds to tell the questioner that both are important, meaning removal of wolves in livestock country and moose range are needed. 

Here is the 2016 map of reported livestock depredations (refer to image previously shared in this post to see moose range)



Here is the original wolf hunting zones set back in 2012.


So basically the DNR's new plan would be to remove wolves from all areas they allowed hunters to remove wolves from before except this time it won't be sold to the public as a wolf season for hunters it will be sold as "managing wolves to save moose." Of course if wolf advocates object they look heartless and uncaring for moose when the fact is the direct opposite. We know what the primary cause of moose decline is in Minnesota and we're wondering why wolves have to pay the price for it. Why isn't the DNR doing more to limit deer numbers in moose range? We know the answer to that. 

Delgiudice concludes his webinar talking about how killing off wolves would have to be part of an experiment first to see if it works, even though he says he knows it will work but regardless, the wolf reduction effort would be part of a study first. Why? We already know lowering deer numbers work. In 2011 the DNR implemented their moose management plan and reduced the deer density in wolf range to 10 deer per sq mile and they claim it helped stabilize the moose population. Regardless of the 10 deer per square mile the 2013-2017 moose study still showed 30% of moose died of parasites, which means too many deer still in that area. If you lower the number of wolves it raises calf survival but does nothing for the adult moose dying of brainworm.






But no one will talk about that because ultimately what is saving moose really about to the DNR? When the moose population reaches a certain level, moose hunting will return and that is the DNRs primary motive, to appease their primary clients just like they did in 2012 when implementing a wolf hunting season and just like in 2016 when they didn't follow through with their plan to limit deer to 3 psm. 

Save the deer for hunters. Save the moose for hunters. Let the hunters kill some wolves. 

Remember that wolves and moose have always coexisted just fine. What is currently wolf and moose range has always been wolf and moose range, not true for deer. Historically deer inhabited central and southern Minnesota until European settlement brought logging and extensive agriculture. Below is the expansion of deer over the years (source: DNR)




Humans changed the landscape and as usual wildlife will continue to pay the price for it.



**I was asked why I use the word kill in reference to wildlife that are hunted and not the word harvest and my answer is because we harvest crops not animals. In addition to that the word harvest is just a politically correct word that allows people to brush off the bad feelings that accompany the word kill, it also helps us mentally disconnect with what is actually happening to wildlife.