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Do Wolves Affect White-Tailed Buck Harvest
In Northeastern Minnesota?

Study Area

Our wolf census area encompasses some 2,060 km² immediately east of Ely in the east-central SNF (48°N, 92°W) of Minnesota (Fig. 1). The topography varies from large stretches of swamps to rocky ridges, with elevations ranging from 325 to 700 m above sea level. Winter temperatures < -35°C are not unusual, and snow depths (usually from about mid-Nov through mid-Apr) generally range from 50 to 75 cm on the level. Temperatures in summer rarely exceed +35°C.

GIF-Study area in Northeastern Minnesota
Fig. 1.  The study area in northeastern Minnesota, including the wolf census area and areas from which deer harvest figures were obtained. Because of the inaccessibility of most of the eastern half of the Ely kill block area, the figures apply mostly to the western half.

Conifers predominate in the forest overstory, with the following species present: jack pine (Pinus banksiana), white pine (P. strobus), red pine (P. resinosa), black spruce (Picea mariana), white spruce (P. glauca), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), and tamarack (Larix laricina). However, as a result of extensive cutting and fires, much of the conifer cover is interspersed with large stands of white birch (Betula papyrifera) and aspen (Populus tremuloides). Detailed descriptions of the forest vegetation were presented by Ohmann and Ream (1969).

Deer inhabited the entire wolf census area until about 1975. By then, deer had been decimated in the northeastern half of the area and in the region north and east of it, although they persisted in the southwestern half (Mech and Karns 1977). Moose (Alces alces) inhabit the entire study area but at a higher density in the northeastern half (Peek et al. 1976). In spring, the deer inhabiting the southwestern half of the study area migrate northeastward and return in fall (Hoskinson and Mech 1976; Nelson and Mech 1981, 1986a). Beaver (Castor canadensis) are available throughout the study area, but generally only during April-November because of ice during the rest of the year.

Although wolves eat all 3 prey species mentioned above (Frenzel 1974), their primary prey in the northeastern 50-70% of our wolf-census area has increasingly been moose since winter 1976-77 (Mech 1986 and L. D. Mech, U.S. Geological Survey, unpublished data). In the southwestern remainder of the area, the main prey has been deer.

In August 1974, wolves in Minnesota were protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and they remain legally protected. However, in accessible parts of the study area, light to moderate illegal killing of wolves continues, primarily in fall and winter (Mech 1977, and L. D. Mech, U.S. Geological Survey, unpublished data).

In most of the wolf-census area, only buck deer could legally be taken during this study, but east, south, and west of the census area, limited numbers of antlerless deer could be harvested as well (Fig. 1). The topography and weather of the latter area is similar to that of the census area, but has been subject to timber harvesting and deer numbers generally have been higher (M. S. Lenarz, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, unpublished data.)

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