Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Grand Portage Band to track and study Minnesota wolves, deer, moose

A $250,000 grant will help pay for biologists to study predator habits in relation to deer and moose.

BY STEVE KUCHERA - NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

How many wolves prowl Northeastern Minnesota, where they live and their interactions with prey species are things the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa hope to discover. The band recently received a $249,750 federal grant to help conduct a three-year effort tracking radio-collared wolves.

"The primary goal is to estimate the number of wolves on reservation and ceded territory lands" where band members are allowed to hunt, fish and gather, said Seth Moore, fish and wildlife biologist with the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa. "We want to relate that information to moose and deer populations in the same area."

The Grand Portage tribal council has emphasized that it's important to restore moose populations on the reservation. The reservation is home to an estimated 80 to 100 moose. The reservation moose harvest by band members decreased to four adults in 2004-05, down from a historical average of 15.

The study may help determine how large a role wolves and deer -- which carry a parasite fatal to moose -- play in limiting moose numbers. "We are expecting a lot of information to come out of this," said John Leonard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife tribal liaison for this region. "It is going to contribute to the status of wolves and give us information on how the packs interact and where we are going with the predator-prey relationship."

The Fish and Wildlife Service approved the federal grant for the project. The study is timely. Earlier this year, the federal government set in motion a plan to hand management of gray wolves in the Great Lakes states back to state and tribal resource agencies. Minnesota has more than 3,000 wolves, while Michigan and Wisconsin have about 450 each.

"We have been talking about doing a study of this type for a long time," said Angela Aarhus, a biologist with the 1854 Treaty Authority. "We want to get some more site-specific, more current information. Our ultimate goal is to manage the wolf better."

The 1854 Treaty Authority works with the state to set game regulations covering band members off the reservation but on the territory Ojibwe ceded to the U.S. in an 1854 treaty. The authority will work on the wolf project with Grand Portage and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The partners plan to live-trap and radio collar 16 wolves from eight packs -- two that use the Grand Portage Reservation and six elsewhere in the 1854 area. The area covers about 5 million acres in Northeastern Minnesota. Once the wolves are radio-collared, biologists will determine their positions at least once a week for 18 months. That will demonstrate each pack's territory. In addition, biologists will fly over each pack at least once a week during two winters, when snow-covered ground will allow biologists to count the number of wolves in each pack.

In addition to counting wolves, biologists on the project also will try to determine the population of deer and moose in the area. Knowing the population densities of the species will allow the tribe to better manage the species to achieve a sustainable moose harvest.

This is not the first Grand Portage fish and wildlife project the Fish and Wildlife Service has paid for. The band's biology department is working on coaster brook trout, lake sturgeon, wild rice and lynx projects partly paid for by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The tribes carry a specific element to their investigations, and that is a cultural-traditional element," Leonard said. "A lot of the animals the tribes look at are animals that represent tribal clans or have important parts to play in the traditional cultural and spiritual values of the tribes."

  • Duluth News Tribune
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