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Minnesota National Guard
Wolves find sanctuary at Camp Ripley training facility

St Cloud Times, Minn
Published: July 25, 2012

CAMP RIPLEY, Minn — Brian Dirks stands on a gravel road lined with dense forest, a radio antenna in his outstretched hand

He punches the frequency of his target into a receiver hanging from a strap over his shoulder, aims the antenna toward an overgrown swamp and listens, ignoring the low booms of artillery fire in the distance

For a few minutes, nothing Then Dirks hears what he's been waiting for: a faint but distinct sound that tells him the young male gray wolf is nearby With a couple of readings, a compass and a map, Dirks can use simple geometry to pinpoint the wolf's exact location

A Humvee rumbles by, and Dirks steps to the side of the road to let it pass Here, working with and around the military is a way of life

The research began 16 years ago after gray wolves were first spotted in Camp Ripley near Little Falls

The 53,000-acre military training facility is also a wildlife refuge Although some areas are heavily used for troop training, much of its vast forests, swamps and hills have little, if any, human activity

This is the southern edge of the range for gray wolves, which were hunted, trapped and poisoned until fewer than 700 remained in Minnesota by the 1970s In 1974, they were federally protected as an endangered species

Since then, wolves have made a steady comeback Wolf tracks were first discovered at Camp Ripley in 1993, and pup sightings were reported soon after

Federal officials wanted to know how the protected wolves were affected by military exercises, and whether training activities would need to be restricted In 1996, the US Department of Military Affairs began funding the Department of Natural Resources to capture some of the wolves, fit them with radio collars and release them so they can be monitored and tracked

The study has provided researchers with valuable knowledge about the size of the packs, how far wolves travel and how they coexist with humans

Since the start of the study, 41 of Camp Ripley's wolves have been captured and collared, although few are still alive Researchers are currently monitoring four collared wolves

In January, gray wolves near the western Great Lakes were removed from the federal endangered species list The DNR adopted a plan to manage the wolf population in Minnesota and is working out details for a hunting season this fall that will allow 400 wolves to be harvested Wolf hunting won't be allowed at Camp Ripley, but the animals sometimes leave the camp's borders

The recovery of gray wolves is good news for the researchers who have spent years studying the animals' movements They say the focus of the Camp Ripley wolf study might change, but its importance won't diminish

"The program's really been successful," said Jay Brezinka, Camp Ripley's environmental supervisor
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