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Timber wolf hunt in Wisconsin unlikely

February 10, 2010 at 02:34 PM

Wausau Daily Herald

PARK FALLS, Wis. (AP) - As Wisconsin’s timber wolf population has expanded over the past 30 years, so have concerns for their future management, but it appears a wolf hunting season is not on the near horizon.

“A public (wolf) harvest is unlikely to occur within the next five years,” said Adrian Wydeven, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist and agency wolf expert.

He cited a July 1 federal court ruling that returned Wisconsin wolves to the endangered species list, a decision that is being challenged. It is anticipated that
Wisconsin’s wolves will eventually be removed from the endangered list, thus allowing the state to use some lethal tactics in wolf management.

While some deer and bear hunters have proposed a public hunting season as a wolf control method, that solution is not a high priority for wildlife officials.

“When (wolves) are again delisted the focus will be on controls by government trappers, landowner perm its and possibly certified citizen wolf trappers to help control problem wolves,” Wydeven said.

A public wolf hunt could take place “somewhere along the way, but unless wolves can remain federally delisted, this won’t be an option. We would also need the
Wisconsin Legislature to authorize DNR to hold such a harvest,” he explained.

Public hearings to establish administrative rules for a public wolf hunt are required, sessions that could be lengthy and contentious. Even if approved, it is unlikely there will be an “open season” on wolves in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.

Any public wolf hunt “would probably be a combined trapping and hunting season restricted to a limited number of individual hunter/trappers in restricted portions of the state,” according to Wydeven.

“Currently, only Alaska allows a public harvest,” he said. “That state has an estimated population of 7,000 to 11,000 wolves. Montana and Idaho are planning wolf hunts but (the hunts) will only occur if they can keep wolves from being federally relisted as endangered (lawsuits have been filed).

Minnesota’s wolf plan says they will not consider a public harvest until five years after federal delisting is completed. Michigan does not have any immediate plans for a public harvest. Canadian provinces with wolves allow trapping and hunting seasons.”

In 1975, timber wolves were considered extinct in Wisconsin. Today, their presence has been reported in nearly half the state’s 72 counties.

In 1999, the Department of Natural Resources settled on a goal of maintaining a population of approximately 375 timber wolves. A decade later, the state is home to nearly twice that number of wolves and the agency anticipates revisions will be made to the earlier goal, Wydeven said.

The unexpected wolf expansion is largely due to “high deer numbers, recovery of public forest land, recovery and expansion of the Minnesota wolf populations due to federal listing (on the endangered species list) and generally favorable attitudes toward wolves by people,” he explained.

As the wolf population has increased and spread to more areas of the state, depredation problems on livestock and dogs have risen.

In 2008, the state encompassed at least 150 packs of at least two wolves, including several packs in areas of central Wisconsin that contain few large blocks of forest, according to the DNR.

During 2008, 32 farms reported losing livestock to wolves. Those losses included 39 cattle killed and four injured, along with one sheep, one pig, two chickens, a llama and a penned deer killed. In addition, 22 dogs were killed and six injured.

In 2009, through Sept. 26, at least 25 dogs were killed by wolves and 10 injured, according to the DNR. The majority of dogs were hounds used in bear hunting but the toll included two beagles, two dachshunds, a German shorthair pointer and a Sheba Inu. At least 27 farms reported livestock losses, which included 35 cattle killed and two injured, three sheep, two donkeys and one horse killed. At least one wolf was killed by a farmer defending his livestock.

The DNR reported finding 94 dead wolves in 2008. Of those, 39 were problem animals trapped and euthanized by government trappers, 22 were struck by automobiles and 14 were illegally killed - many during the gun deer season.

Wisconsin cannot take a more aggressive stance to control problem wolves until federal delisting occurs, which is not expected before spring of 2010, Wydeven said.

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