Voyageurs National Park Wolf Population on the Rise as More Pups Survive

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

According to a recent report, the wolf population in Voyageurs National Park has grown by 16% in just one year.

The findings, which were issued last week by the Voyageurs Wolf Project, showed that a remarkably high number of wolf pups born in 2021 survived their first year. And that helped the species thrive in 2022.

That spring, around 52% of the pups lived through their most vulnerable months, which is a staggering turnaround from 2020, when only 7% survived.

This is only the second year that the organization has been able to record survival rates among wolf pups. So, Tom Gable, the projects lead researcher, said that his team is still trying to understand why the rates can be drastically different from one spring to the next.

Researchers are able to closely watch adult wolves using GPS collars, but young pups can’t wear the devices. So when they die, it’s nearly impossible to determine the cause. Gable is hoping that recording population numbers over the years and comparing them to environmental factors will answer some questions.

The Voyageurs National Park Study Suggests That Nature is Balancing the Predator and Prey Populations

It’s typical for all wildlife populations to vary each year. But researchers were particularly worried about the already endangered wolf between 2019 and 2020—when it fell to its lowest recorded population in nearly a decade.

The recent rebound, however, brings the species back to its nine-year average. And though the project just began in 2013, Gable believes that’s on par with the local wolf population from over three decades ago.

“Our assessment suggests the current wolf population size is relatively similar to what it was 25-35 years ago, suggesting that the GVE has supported a relatively stable, high-density wolf population for decades,” he wrote.

The study suggests that the difference in survival rate is nature’s way of balancing predators and prey. Without human interference, animals like wolves and deer tend to maintain healthy populations that don’t outweigh one or the other.

However, he noted that many people living near Voyageurs National Park have a drastically different view. Some believe that the wolf population is growing out of control and hurting the ecosystem. Gable said he’s found no evidence proving that theory.

“People think wolf populations will always grow exponentially as if they’re some kind of super predator,” he said. “But there is no animal I’m aware of that can continue to increase its population while eliminating their food source.”

Two of the animals’ main prey are deer and beaver, which continues to survive in healthy numbers. In his opinion, that proves that environmental factors are regulating the wolf packs much more efficiently than people believe.