Beckie Gaskill/Lakeland Times
State Sen. Tom Tiffany started the Wolf Summit II — Focus on Wisconsin meeting last weekend in Sugar Camp by saying the wolf issue is now a bipartisan one and encouraged attendees to contact their federal legislators to let them know returning management control to the states needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
4/15/2017 7:28:00 AM Wisconsin Wolf Summit II separates fact from fiction
Wolf Summit II - Focus on Wisconsin was held last weekend at the Sugar Camp Town Hall. The meeting was well attended by various stakeholders from across the state. Attendees came from as far away as Dane County to discuss the wolf in Wisconsin and how it fits into the overall landscape, including acceptable population levels as seen by different groups. Disease and the need for reforming the Endangered Species Act were also presented as well as public opinions on wolves in general.
The morning started with an update from State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) on what has been happening since the first Wolf Summit in Cumberland. He said there is now bipartisan support for the delisting of wolves and returning their management back to the state level. Many Democrats, he said, are getting onboard now as well. He commended Wisconsin Wolf Facts on disseminating information about wolves and helping people to understand the issues and for putting together the summit. He also stated sportsmen are a key constituency and have a great influence on elections when issues such as control of wolf populations are on the minds of people. He urged all in attendance to continue to contact federal representatives and let them know the importance of getting state control of wolf populations back sooner rather than later.
History of wolves in Wisconsin
David Ruid, a wildlife biologist from USDA Wildlife Services, presented a history of wolves in Wisconsin from the days of the wolf bounties up through their listing as an endangered species. He discussed an integrated management approach which would allow the lethal control of problem wolves that had caused conflicts, which could happen if wolves were listed as only threatened rather than endangered. He also discussed a fully integrated management approach, which would include a harvest season on wolves. Ruid provided information that showed, after three years of having a harvest season once the wolves were delisted in 2012, conflicts with wolves had dropped - in some cases fairly significantly.
Ruid said state-controlled management offered the greatest flexibility in management as well as effectiveness and efficiency. He said the DNR has also shown the ability to manage wolves well while still keeping sustainable populations, which is the ultimate goal. The goal of the harvest season, he said, was to slowly and incrementally reduce the populations to a manageable and acceptable level, which is what was happening with the fully integrated management approach.
How wolves are counted
DNR large carnivore and furbearer scientist Nathan Roberts spoke about how wolves are counted and populations estimated. The wolf numbers put forth by the department, he said, are minimum numbers and populations are different than minimums. Population minimums are estimated in the wintertime. At this time the populations are at their lowest and are also more easily seen during aerial surveys. He said there is no question wolf populations have recovered and that the Department still wants to monitor them for management reasons. He discussed the difference between radio telemetry and GPS tracking and how much more information can be readily available when animals are tracked via GPS. He talked about how wolf populations are estimated now and what may be done looking forward.
Diseases and the spread by canids
Jim Beers, who is retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, provided the group on information regarding the 30 diseases that can be spread by canids, 27 of which can are zoonitic, or which can be transmitted to humans. These diseases, such as tape worm, parvo, anthrax, small pox and prion diseases, he said, can be picked up by canids such as wolves and transmitted across the entire range of that animal. These diseases could be transferred through saliva, mucus or feces of a carrier animal. He was unclear whether wolves were a main vector for spread of diseases such as this, but hypothesized that the possibility of a predator or scavenger picking up a disease and transporting it was fairly likely.
Beers did have some concern about returning management back to the state, calling it a mirage. He said management should be done at an even more local level, like is now done with deer through the County Deer Advisory Committees.
Survey results - willingness to live with wolves
Mike Brust and Laurie Groskopf of Wisconsin Wolf Facts presented information from a survey regarding people's willingness to live with wolves. Overall, it showed the more closely people lived with wolves and dealt with conflicts, the less apt they were to tolerate wolves. The majority of people who showed a high tolerance for wolves did not live within the wolf range. Groskopf echoed Beers' idea that wolf management should be done by those who live in wolf territory rather than even statewide. She had sent sample resolutions out to 34 county boards as of the date of the meeting asking them to propose a wolf population of not more than 350 statewide. Many counties agreed with this resolution, she said, and several even proposed a smaller minimum, all the way down to no wolves in the state. She stated she had been amazed by the response from the county boards to which she had presented her proposal.
Brust asked the question "who should be considered first?" when setting population goals for wolves. Surveys indicated opinions of those who live in wolf territory should be weighted more heavily, as they are the people who are dealing with and trying to manage conflicts.
A citizen panel was also present to bring their wolf experiences to light and to show how intimidating it can be when wolves become habituated to humans. One couple had wolves within 30 feet of their farm home, a place where their children and dogs play. They had encountered wolves at a distance too close for comfort several times. They also lost a horse when wolves stalked it from outside of its enclosure. The horse broke free of the fence and ultimately had to be put down. They pointed to the unseen damage of wolf conflicts. The sleepless nights and worries of farmers about their animals and, indeed, their families, is something that could not be quantified, they said.
Another citizen told a tale of his hunting land, once flush with deer, now basically worthless to him. He had encountered a wolf years ago while bird hunting, he said, and the choice became either his dog or the wolf. Others in the audience spoke of seeing deer yards decimated with the deer left dead and not eaten. Wolves, one panelist said, have to train their pups to hunt and how to kill their pray. This is done by killing animals for practice, they said, rather than just for food. This is the way adult wolves train their young to find and kill food, giving them their best chance for survival. Many hunters shared stories of areas where deer were once abundant, and now it was rare to see them.
While no particular solutions were achieved at the wolf summit, a great deal of information was shared by many professionals in the wildlife field as well as by those affected by conflicts. Some wondered if the wolf population had gone too far already, pointing to places such as Idaho, where wolf tags are given out in hopes each hunter would harvest five animals and still their wolf numbers are higher than they would like. Most people in the room agreed there is a problem in some areas of the state that could be better controlled through a fully integrated management approach. This year's wolf count has just been submitted and the information is currently being assembled, Groskopf said. A public meeting will be held, likely in Wausau, in May to review the minimum population estimates from this past winter. More information about that meeting will be published in the River News as it becomes available. Further breakdowns of the Wolf Summit will also be published in the Outdoors section in coming weeks.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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