Friday, June 3, 2011

Researchers map likely future contact with wolves


As Wisconsin's wolf population has grown, so have conflicts with humans.
But where will the future problems occur? And if we know those locations, how might landowners and others be able to respond?
To help pinpoint future problem areas, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Department of Natural Resources have created a new tool to manage wolf-human conflicts.
The researchers use data from past wolf attacks on livestock and pets to make predictions about where they might occur in the future.
The results are represented on maps, which they call "risk maps," that show the future likelihood of wolf conflict.
"It should help us be one step closer to coexistence with wolves," said Adrian Treves, assistant professor of environmental studies at UW.
The results were published this week in the journal BioScience.
The researchers found that areas of northwestern Wisconsin are likely to present the greatest risk of predatory wolf attacks - especially portions of Burnett, Polk, Rusk and Washburn counties.
For now, the map using data from the DNR can be broken down to one-mile squares, but Treves said that the next phase of the study is to fine tune the maps to areas less than the size of a football field.
The aim, if funding is available, is to make the maps available to landowners in wolf country in the next year or so.
"This can help with future management of the wolf," said Adrian Wydeven, a wolf ecologist at the DNR and one of the authors of the study.
For example, Wisconsin authorities could use lethal means to control wolves once they are no longer listed as an endangered species.

Future hunts possible

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans last month to lift federal protections for gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.
That could pave the way to hunts of the wolf in Wisconsin, and the mapping could pinpoint the best areas to reduce future conflict, Wydeven said.
Wydeven and Treves also said the maps could help landowners with nonlethal means to protect their property, such as the use of guard dogs, electric fences or greater oversight by landowners.
The scientists used 133 documented attacks on livestock from 1999 to 2006, and then verified their model by using data from 60 attacks from 2007 to 2009.
The risk map correctly predicted 88% of the incidents, the study found.
Areas of southern and southeastern Wisconsin were not included because of the absence of wolves in those areas.
The researchers found that despite a growing wolf population - now estimated at more than 800 - about one-third of Wisconsin's study area was considered to be in an at-risk area.

Increasing complaints

The research comes at a critical juncture in wolf management. A growing population has led to increasing complaints over wolf attacks on livestock and other animals.
In turn, the DNR and the Fish and Wildlife Service periodically are called in to investigate wolf killings. In 2010, there were 16 such cases in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan - eight of them in Wisconsin.
The most recent population estimate by the DNR shows that Wisconsin has about 825 wolves and more than 200 packs. The DNR set a recovery goal of 350 wolves.
The UW-DNR study found two landscapes that, as expected, presented a high risk profile for wolf attacks: areas near a wolf pack and areas near pastures or grassland, where presumably livestock could be present.
A third area was more of a surprise: locales away from forests.
"That might be because wolves are looking for deer in and around the edge of the forest," said Treves, the founder of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at UW.
When wolves leave forested landscapes, their rate of encounter with livestock rises, Wydeven said.

Source