Hands cupped to their mouths, children at the Northland Arboretum howled like wolves Saturday.
An educational program by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about gray wolves and their resurgence from the brink of extinction was the arboretum's second annual family educational event.
"It was really informative," Sera Kain said of the program. "It was awesome. I was really impressed."
Kain's 9-year-old daughter Valleri Abear enjoyed the wolf images. After the program, Kain and her daughter, who live near East Gull Lake, looked through information about the Northland Arboretum.
"I didn't know they did so much here," Kain said.
Jenna Meyer, 5, and her mom, Michelle Meyer, practiced howling like wolves Saturday morning during the Northland Arboretum's 2nd Annual Family Education Event in Baxter. The topic for the event was all about wolves. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The wolf program included large displays of still photos and a short movie about gray wolves. Children were quick to pick up on the wolf pack as a family of mom, dad and siblings. They learned how wolves were tracked by wildlife biologists and were able to touch a wolf pelt. And they howled.
Nine-year-old Riley Jacobs, Brainerd, likes wolves and picked the event as one of the things to do on her birthday with her father Luke Radke. She was one of the children picked to demonstrate a telemetry device and show the audience how biologists track wildlife.
Is that a wolf?
Maybe. A wolf is sometimes confused for a coyote or large dog. But there are key differences.
A coyote - about 3.5 to 4.5 feet long and 20 inches at the shoulder and 20 to 50 pounds - is about half the size of a wolf. Coyotes tend to have gray or reddish brown fur with rusty colored legs, feet and ears along with white fur on the belly or throat. Coyotes have pointed, relatively long ears with a pointed, petite muzzle. They tend to carry their tails below their back.
Wolves have many color variations but tend to be buff-colored tans, grizzled with gray and black. Wolves have rounded, relatively short ears and a large blocky muzzle. They typically have an 18-inch, black-tipped tail carried straight out from the body or down.
Dogs often have curled tails, which is never the case with wolves or coyotes.
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
By the numbers
3,020 - estimated wolf population in Minnesota.
485 - wolf packs in Minnesota.
465 - estimated wolf population in Wisconsin.
434 - estimated wolf population in Michigan.
30 - miles a day a wolf can travel.
13 - years wolves can live, but 6-8 years is more typical.
5 - wolf pups born to the pack in the spring. Mortality is about 50 percent.
1 - meals a wolf typically has in a week's time. However, the single meal may equal 20 pounds of food.
Nearly extinct in the lower 48 states by 1973 the only wolves remaining were a few hundred in Minnesota's northeast corner and a small number on Isle Royale, Michigan.
Michelle McDowell, wildlife biologist, Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge near McGregor, said the program was an opportunity to celebrate the removal of the gray wolf from the threatened and endangered list in the Western Great Lakes District. Minnesota has the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states.
Speaker Katie Goodwin, who is the Public Use and Education Coordinator at Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, showed off a wolf pelt to the audience Saturday during the Northland Arboretum's 2nd Annual Family Education Event in Baxter. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Understanding and awareness is a big step to stewardship and appreciation," said Katie Goodwin, Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Ashland, Wis.
One of the common questions the two hear is whether wolves pose a threat to people if they see each other in the wild. McDowell said the answer is no.
"You are very lucky if you see one," Goodwin said. "It's safe to go hiking."
Wild wolves are shy but curious, which means they may not take off at the sight of a person. But attacks on people are rare and most wolf/human conflicts in North America involved cases where wolves were acclimated to people either by feeding or having access to a consistent food source be it outdoor pet food or garbage.
In a case study of wild wolf and human encounters in Alaska and Canada where there are 59,000 to 70,000 wolves, there were 16 cases since 1970 of non-rabid wolves biting people and six of those cases were severe. One fatality in Canada has not yet been determined to be the action of wolves, bear, or wild dogs.
Four-year-old Max Kranz of Brainerd and speaker Michelle McDowell, the Wildlife Biologist for Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge, demonstrated a telemetry system when they searched for and found a tracking collar beacon hidden in the room. The exercise was part of the Northland Arboretum's 2nd Annual Family Education Event held Saturday in Baxter. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
By comparison, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported nearly a dozen people are killed annually in North America by domestic dogs, pet wolves or wolf-dog hybrids.
Lakes area counties are part of core wolf habitat in Minnesota. The northern part of Cass County and extreme northern and northeastern Crow Wing County (north of Deerwood) and much of Aitkin county are in the core range management zone where 80 percent of Minnesota wolves live.
The cities of Backus, Pine River, Crosby, Deerwood, Aitkin, McGregor and McGrath all sit on the line separating core wolf management habitat from the rest of the state, where wolves now have fewer protections.
Attendees of the Northland Arboretum's 2nd Annual Family Education Event Saturday in Baxter watched a short educational film on wolves, which was the topic for the event. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
McDowell summed up the goal of the session quoting from a 1968 speech made in New Delhi, India by the Senegalese environmentalist, Baba Dioum, to the general assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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