Jeremy Irish of the USDA’s Wildlife service demonstrates the setting of a non-lethal foot-hold trap used to capture wolves.
6/1/2019 7:30:00 AM Kemp Station hosts wolf presentation
Jacob Friede Of the Lakeland Times
Being the dairy state, Wisconsin is home to thousands of herds of cattle. As a heavily forested state of the north, it is also home to over 900 wolves, and with both animals on the landscape, they're bound to run into each other.
The controversial outcome of these encounters rarely favors cattle. Wolves are wild, quick and cunning predators which can make easy prey out of slow, domestic cows. Supporters of wolves will call that nature. Farmers call that depredation. Whatever you call it, when this happens the United States Departments of Agriculture's Wildlife Service is called in to investigate.
Jeremy Irish of the USDA's Wildlife Service, is one of the investigators and he was at Kemp Station last Thursday to give a presentation on wolf depredation response. In his work, speed is the name of the game.
"It's real critical responding as quickly as possible," Irish said.
That's because a lot is at stake. A farmer's compensation hangs in the balance. In order for a farmer to be compensated for the loss of his livestock, Irish has to confirm that the loss was due to a wolf.
In order to be accurate, it is critical to view fresh evidence and that's why Irish strives to be on the scene of a potential wolf attack within 24 hours.
Once he arrives, his number one objective is to identify the predator. To do this he hones in on the surrounding tracks and the flesh puncture wounds to gauge the size of the attacker. This enables him to determine if a wolf or a coyote has been at work.
"The size of this animal shows up in all characteristics of the investigation," Irish said.
Wolf tracks are much larger than coyote tracks. A wolve's print is 4 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide, while a coyotes is only 2 1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide.
In addition to footprints Irish also looks at flesh wounds. He explained that with the power of their jaw and sharp teeth, a wolf will puncture the hide of a cow, all the way into vital organs. Coyotes can only nip at cattle and drag them down by their skin because their bite is unable to penetrate the hide.
Therefore, the depth of the puncture wound is a good indicator of which canine was responsible for the damage. So is the diameter of the bite and size of the tooth marks, as wolves have a larger jaw and bigger teeth.
Through forensics and tracking, if Irish determines a wolf was responsible for a the loss of livestock, at least in Wisconsin, his only option to prevent further depredation is abatement.
"We're a non-lethal operating system," Irish said.
Though it's gone back and forth, wolves are currently on the endangered species list and because of this cannot be euthanized unless they pose a threat to human safety. Therefore, Irish uses methods to dissuade wolf presence rather than eliminate it.
One tactic is a fence of bright colored flags hanging off of a cord of electrified poly rope. Irish explained the wolves are disturbed by the motion of the flags and therefore are hesitant to cross past them.
Bright lights and sirens are also used to scare wolves off a farm. Some are automatically activated by a collar on the wolf. But first a collar has to be applied, and for that to happen the wolf must be trapped.
Irish demonstrated the setting of a foothold trap which is placed underneath a wax soil that does not freeze or absorb moisture. The trap is anchored with a large hook and buried beneath brush and set to trip only by the weight of a large animal.
"It takes a pretty heavy animal to set that trap off," Irish said.
Once trapped the animal can also be tracked, which is a way the USDA helps out the Department of Natural Resources with their wolf count. Irish said the two agencies often work together.
In 2018, Irish reported, the USDA Wildlife service in Wisconsin investigated 125 reports of wolf depredation; 73 of those cases were confirmed wolf depredation or classified as probable wolf depredation, the other 52 were determined to be non-wolf related.
So far this year there have been 12 cases of confirmed wolf depredation in Wisconsin, with one occurring in Oneida County on May 3 that resulted in the loss of a captive deer.
In 2018 the state's compensation to the farmers totaled $731,793.
That's a lot of money riding on determinations Irish has to make during his investigations.
"You make controversial calls that aren't always liked," Irish said.
As the years of debate over their status have proved, controversy is a sure sign of wolves.
Jacob Friede may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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