Wisconsin wolf management under review
The Daily Press
ASHLAND, Wis. (AP) - Love them or hate them, gray wolves are back to stay in Wisconsin.
How state or federal agencies manage them continues to be in flux, however, as the Canis lupis has been bounced on and off the federal endangered species list as states seek more local control over the population.
With that in mind, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the near future will attempt to update its wolf management plan first created 10 years ago, Adrian Wydeven, mammalian ecologist for the DNR, told an audience at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.
State, federal and tribal agencies celebrated the recovery of the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes in 2007, when the species was removed from the endangered species list.
By that time, the population had increased to more than 500 wolves after no breeding wolves could be found anywhere in the state in 1960.
Still, the population is below the recorded highs of some 800 wolves in the late 1800s, Wydeven said.
But a lawsuit challenging the delisting brought the wolf back onto the endangered list in September, presenting a challenge to state officials on how to manage a population that continues to creep upward.
The 1999 management plan set a goal of 350 wolves throughout Wisconsin.
In 2007, there were a minimum of 530 wolves scattered among 143 packs.
Wydeven stressed the “minimum” part because although state officials and volunteers attempt to track the population, some are no doubt left uncounted.
The current population has also forced the DNR and other agencies to revise their number for the carrying capacity of wolves in the state.
The carrying capacity of 650 wolves is the number that the state’s habitat could support, although Wydeven said public opinion also factors into the equation.
When it does update its management plan, Wydeven said the intent will be to include as broad a base of opi nions as possible.
But right now, with many hunters around the state fuming over a smaller deer population and decreased harvest numbers from the fall hunts, public perception of the wolf has taken a hit as a possible culprit, Wydeven said.
One wolf can kill between 15 and 20 deer per year, Wydeven said.
So, with more than 500 wolves in the state, its predation of deer accounts for the deaths of 10,000 to 12,000 of the state’s 1.2 million deer.
“We’re seeing attitudes toward wolves declining in northern Wisconsin and in many rural areas, where through the 1990s we saw a very positive attitude toward wolves - or at least those with negative attitudes weren’t expressing them,” he said.
One example is the increasing number of illegal kills, which Wydeven said accounted for 67 percent of all wolf deaths in 2006.
Regardless of public opinion, the federal listing of wolves on the endangered species list will probably slow down the planning “beca use we’re not going to rush ahead with a plan if we don’t know what we’re going to be able to do.”
The DNR continues to lobby for state management of its wolf population, but in the meantime, Wydeven said the state will likely seek a special permit giving it the option of lethal control for problem wolves that prey on livestock or create other management challenges.
There were 30 farms that experienced depredation in 2008, along with 22 dogs - mainly used for bear hunting - that were either killed or injured.
Wydeven did say there is some indication that the wolves might be delisted again next winter or spring.