On Lake Superior’s North Shore, wolves are alive and well! The 2018 DNR population survey reported 439 packs and over 2,200 wolves living within Minnesota. They are found primarily in the northern half of the state. That survey also showed that the population of the grey wolf was growing, increasing from just 374 packs found during the previous survey.
This is a great recovery from a century ago when the wolf population dwindled to almost zero. This was primarily due to active hunting. It used to be that if you hunted a wolf and turned in a paw to the DNR, you’d get a payment for successfully hunting what was once considered a nuisance species. These days, wolf hunting is illegal and could carry steep fines or even jail time. Researchers now realize that wolves are an integral part of our ecosystem. They came to this realization after the near-extinction of the wolf population. Their presence keeps the deer population, as well as other species population, in check. This, in turn, helps maintain other natural resources. These include plants and shrubs, which are eaten by animals wolves prey on.
Isle Royale Wolf Project
In very recent years, we’ve seen this fine balance on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The wolf population had dwindled to just two wolves on the island. Meanwhile, the moose population flourished due to a lack of predators. The moose were destroying the limited natural resources on the island in great numbers. So, a multi-national program was set up between the US and Canada to increase the wolf population on Isle Royale. Since then, over a dozen wolves have helped to re-populate the island and are being closely studied by the US Parks Service.
Isle Royale is a great modern-day example of what could have happened in Minnesota had the wolf not become a protected species. Luckily, this was all figured out in time and the population has revived and is thriving.
If you’re looking to spot some wolves on the North Shore, there are a couple of things you should know. Encounters with wolves can occur throughout any time of the year. However, the most frequent encounters happen during the late winter months. This happens for a couple of reasons. For one, the deep snow inland keeps the deer that they prey on near Lake Superior’s shore. See our whitetail deer article to find out why! Another, and maybe the most important reason, is Lake Superior freezes over and enables the wolves to stalk their prey out onto the ice for an easier kill.
If you’re interested in seeing a wolf, be sure to be outside around dawn, as this is their most busy time of day. Head on down to a quiet stretch of Lake Superior shoreline. Keep your eyes peeled. Make sure to bring a pair of binoculars because you will want to keep your distance. Also, dress warmly with plenty of layers, and if you’re not lucky enough to encounter a wolf, you’ll at least get to witness the beauty of a North Shore sunrise. In recent years, there have been reports of a resident wolf in the Cascade Beach Road area of Lutsen. However, it is believed that the wolf seen most often was killed by a car in 2019.
Possibility of a Wolf Attack
While wolves generally avoid populated areas and are not a nuisance to people, there have been reports of wolves attacking pets.. Primarily cats and small dogs. Usually, this happens when there is a pack disturbance that causes a wolf, typically a male, to be kicked out of their pack. The lone wolf has a harder time hunting and catching more difficult prey. So, naturally, they seek out easier prey, like domestic animals. It’s always wise to keep an eye on your pets when they are outside and always be aware of your surroundings when hiking with your pet.
That being said, wolf attacks on domestic animals are incredibly rare. There have been less than 30 reported wolf attacks in the entire United States ever. In Minnesota, the 2013 attack of a teenager by a wolf with a deformed jaw was the first, and so far only, wolf attack on record in Minnesota history. The teenager in that incident had only minor injuries.
Still, it is always wise to keep a safe distance from wolves and any other wild animal you might encounter during your travels. Enjoy the beauty of this large wild canine from your vehicle or home. Keep your pets on a leash and nearby, just in case you happen to see a wolf nearby. However, they will mostly leave you alone and want to keep their distance from you just as much as you want to keep your distance from them. And if you happen to see one, we’d love to hear about it!