January–February 2021

From the Editor

It's Raining Dogs

This issue coincides with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s removal of the gray wolf from the federal endangered and threatened species list.

Chris Clayton

You know that thing where, despite your best efforts, you sometimes find yourself with a surplus of a given food or ingredient? (For reasons I can’t quite explain, I recently accumulated enough feta cheese to feed a Greek soccer team.) A similar phenomenon occurs in publishing. Though magazines work hard to cover a variety of subjects, they occasionally end up with multiple stories on similar topics—which is why this edition of the Volunteer contains two distinct features on wild dogs. 

The timing is right for a glut of canine content. This issue coincides with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s removal of the gray wolf from the federal endangered and threatened species list, scheduled to take effect in January 2021. With the delisting, state and tribal wildlife management agencies—including the Minnesota DNR and Minnesota tribal governments—assume full responsibility for the sustainable management of the gray wolf. To that end, the DNR is in the process of updating its wolf management plan while continuing to partner with various organizations on the complicated business of conserving this iconic species in Minnesota. (For more information on the plan, visit https://mndnr.gov/wolves/wolf-plan.html.) 

Our “Wolf Pup Roundup” photo essay (page 32) shows one such partnership in action. The story follows a group of researchers from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the 1854 Treaty Authority as they outfit wolf pups in northern Minnesota with special tracking collars. The collaring took place last May as part of a larger pilot project conceived by the DNR and those groups to study wolf pup mortality rates. 

For Fond du Lac Band biologist Mike Schrage, the pandemic has added unique challenges to his already difficult work. “We certainly took COVID-related precautions at all the den sites, both for our own safety and for the wolves,” says Schrage, referencing the field work depicted in our feature. Per Fond du Lac safety requirements, before the May den visits, Schrage and his colleagues received temperature checks and were required to be free of symptoms at the start of the day. They also wore masks and gloves. When social distancing wasn’t possible, they worked quickly to collar the (very cute) pups. (The DNR, for its part, has had to create its own COVID safety guidelines for a wide range of agency field work.)

A quick update on the collaring story: In September of last year, a trail cam used for the pilot study captured more than 25 photos—including the one on the opposite page—of a wolf pack being monitored for the project. The remarkable series shows seven of the nine wolf pups that were collared during the May 2020 den visits. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that only one of the nine pups was still wearing its collar—proof of the challenges inherent to wolf research. 

Later in this issue, Young Naturalists (page 44) continues the canine theme with a lively primer on the state’s four wild dog species. It also does the important investigative work of comparing the wiener dog to its wild and domestic cousins.

The Volunteer has more dog coverage in the works, but in the meantime, I hope these stories inspire you to learn more about Canis lupus and the rest of Minnesota’s resilient wild canines.  

Chris Clayton, editor in chief