Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wolf hunting still divides WI

16 hours ago  • 

Ask Wisconsinites their opinion about wolves, and the answer likely depends on where they live.
In Madison and other urban parts of the state, wolves are noble creatures along the lines of Jack London’s White Fang and Buck. In western and northern Wisconsin, they are killers of the Big Bad variety.

Both views are correct, and both incorrect. Each is a matter of perspective and personal priorities.

The state Department of Natural Resources has pursued a gray wolf management plan that should appease both sides, but opinions have not budged much.

Last year, hunters and trappers killed 117 wolves under the DNR-managed plan. They did not overkill, as some people had feared, remaining within the constraints set by wildlife managers. An additional 126 died in accidents and from other causes.

Yet despite nearly 250 deaths in 2012, the total population barely declined. New wolves were born or moved in, and more than 800 still roam the state. The DNR management plan calls for 350 wolves as a manageable, long-term population, though that figure is under review.

Despite last year’s successful hunt and plans for another this year limited to 251 wolves, a UW-Madison survey found public opinion remains entrenched. Eighty-one percent of respondents said their tolerance for wolves had not changed. At least the portion who had become more tolerant (14 percent) outnumbered those who became less tolerant (5 percent).

Support for hunting remains divided along geographic lines. Three-quarters of people who live in wolf range support it. Fewer than half outside the range do.

The DNR is handling the wolf challenge in a manner that protects people and property but maintains a viable population. All stakeholders have a seat at the table, and scientific data, not emotions, drive decision-making.

It’s easy to sit in Madison, far removed from any real wolf danger, and lament wolf killing. It’s also easy to sit in wolf country and complain about bleeding hearts. The hard thing is accepting Wisconsin’s smart compromise between killing every wolf and letting them run rampant.