2023 3M Truth in Science Award, Large Newsroom winner

State of Wolves

About the Project

Tension has been rising in the United States as an ancient predator returns to lands it inhabited for thousands of years. The gray wolf — beloved by some, reviled by others — has been politicized like no other animal in America. States have struggled to set their own science-based population and management goals as they’re increasingly pressured by two competing factions.

Misinformation about wolves abounds as the species has been swept up in a divide over science, personal freedom, private property and government regulation. One group portrays wolves as far more threatening to cattle, people and game than they are. Another overstates their positive impacts on the environment.

But the researchers, ranchers, dog owners and people in Minnesota — the only state in the lower 48 that didn’t shoot, poison and trap wolves to extirpation in the 20th century — know more about living with wolves than just about any place else. Minnesota is home to more wild wolves than all of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and the rest of the contiguous states combined. The population has been stable for about 30 years. Never before in America have so many wolves lived next to so many people for so long.

“State of Wolves” cuts through myths, falsehoods and superficial debates of advocacy groups to reveal what the people of Minnesota have learned about the nuanced reality of living with wolves, and what the rest of the nation should know as their numbers climb.

Reporter Greg Stanley and photographer Anthony Soufflé worked on this story for months, digging beyond the debate between advocates and academics. Wolves live differently in Minnesota than in Yellowstone National Park, where they can be seen miles away and followed at a distance. They’re much more elusive in the deep cover of Minnesota’s old forests, so our journalists had to embed with trappers and follow researchers into tick- infested swamps and through the deep snow drifts and frigid mornings.

They spoke to ranchers who lost cattle, residents who lost dogs, and researchers who developed innovative and successful ways to keep wolves away. They sat down with one of the last trappers who once hunted wolves for bounties in the 1950s and 1960s. Stanley and Soufflé made themselves ready to travel on short notice, as the story required. For one last-minute trip, they drove four hours on a 30-below-zero morning to hike through the woods with researchers as they followed a mortality signal coming from the collar of one of the longest-tracked wolves in the country. To be able to do this, they spent months building trust with sources wary of institutions and weary of the debate. They gained access to raw GPS data and video from the animal collars that Voyageurs Wolf Project researchers use to track wolves in the wild in northern Minnesota. That, combined with traditional reporting, allowed “State of Wolves” to reveal the daily lives of wolves over time.

Judges Comments

‘The State of Wolves’ was a wonderful, in-depth read about one of our most mysterious and misunderstood creatures. In particular, the piece impressed the judges by delving into newly emerging politics surrounding the animals, punctuated by the quote: ‘Wolves became Democrats … I don’t know how that happened, but it did.’