You may not see them, but wild animals are all around us here in the northwoods.

Recently, a wolf was rumored to have been seen near the Forest View Drive and Kaywood Loop addition of Park Rapids.

Erik Thorson, wildlife manager with the Park Rapids Department of National Resources (DNR), said his office has not received any reports of wolves in town.

“We have a retired wildlife employee and a current forestry employee who live in that area, and neither of them have heard about any wolf sightings or seen any wolves when they have been out walking,” he said.

Thorson said it would be highly unlikely to have wolves in such a populated neighborhood. “I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, that one couldn’t wander through, but it’s much more likely to be a coyote or stray dog,” he said.

Thorson said most wolves live in forested areas. “They are up by Itasca State Park, around Emmaville, east towards Akeley and west in the Smoky Hills,” he said.

Seeing a wolf is something folks think is really neat, but it’s not that unusual.

He said if a person encounters a wolf that is causing issues or is sick or injured, they should contact the DNR.

Dan Stark is a large carnivore specialist at the Grand Rapids DNR office. He said the most recent estimate of Minnesota’s wolf population is 2,700, based on data from radio-collared wolves.

The average size of a wolf pack is five wolves, covering about a 60-square-mile area. “There’s some variation in that,” he said. “You can see packs with between two to 11 wolves, and their territories range from 20 to over 100 square miles.”

He said he sees one or two wolves a year on average. It is more rare to see a black wolf, since they make up only 5 percent of the wolf population.

While white-tailed deer are their primary food source, beavers supplement the wolf’s diet during the summer months when deer are harder for them to catch. “They also eat a variety of other small mammals,” Stark said.

New wolf plan in the works

The DNR is in the process of forming a wolf plan advisory committee to update its 2001 management plan.

“We’re seeking people interested in participating,” Stark said. “We encourage tribal members to apply as well and plan to limit the stakeholder group to around 20 people.We hope to have people who represent all of the different interests in wolf management.”

The DNR seeks committee members who represent diverse perspectives, including hunters, trappers, animal rights advocates, farmers and local governments.

In addition to the advisory committee, the DNR will gather public input through a public perception survey, public comment period and open houses at area wildlife offices.

Applications for the wolf advisory committee are available on the DNR website. For more information, call 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367.

Protecting ‘brother wolf’

According to the White Earth Land Recovery Project website, the wolf, “Ma’iingan,” was put here by the All Loving Spirit to show the Anishinaabe people the way and is a brother to the original man.

That is why many American Indian groups have fought legislation that would remove gray wolves in the Great Lakes region from protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In March 2019, there was a proposed ruling that would remove protection for wolves in the lower 48 states. A decision will be finalized by March 2020.

Stark said if wolves are removed from the ESA, they will still be protected and managed under state laws.

“In Minnesota, wolves have a separate status from the rest of the lower 48 where they are fully endangered,” he explained. “In Minnesota, wolves have been classified as threatened since 1978 when there were estimated to be about 1,250 wolves in the state.”

Data shows that wolves had been virtually wiped out in the other lower 48 states at that time.

“That (threatened status) gives us a little more flexibility to manage wolves that are causing conflicts with livestock,” he said. “There’s a program in place to address that where they can verify a claim and get compensation available through the state. There’s also a federal agency that traps the wolves that are causing the damage and removes them.”

Co-existing with wild animals

Thorson said coyotes have become quite used to people and are more common around towns and areas south of Park Rapids that include fields and forest. Wolves and coyotes don’t coexist.

“If there are wolves in the area, they’ll kill the coyotes,” he said. “They view them as a threat.”

Thorson said there are also quite a few bobcats in the area, but they prefer areas away from human dwellings.

“People don’t see them very often,” he said. “A lot of our reported cougar sightings turn out to be bobcats. But there have been a few verified sightings of cougars in Minnesota, mostly young males who are roaming through the area.”

Thorson’s advice is not to surprise or corner any of these animals. “Make sure your presence is known,” he said. “When you go outside, turn a light on and make some noise. Keep close track of your dogs and have them on a leash in close proximity to you if you’re in wild areas.”

He said wolves, coyotes and bobcats are generally more scared of you than you are of them.

“As long as you make your presence known and they have an escape route, they’ll generally just run off in the woods and do their own thing,” he said.

Removing food sources around homes is also important.

“People should secure their garbage and bring in their bird feeders and pet food,” he said.

Hunters can bring deer or other animal carcasses to a specialized dumpster outside the new building at the transfer station in Park Rapids so they don’t attract wild animals near residences.

Anyone who has good quality video or photos of sightings of wolves in the area this year may share them with for possible inclusion in the Enterprise.