Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wolf depredation strategy clicking

The number of livestock killed by wolves has declined more than 70 percent since the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regained authority to lethally target livestock-killing wolf packs in January 2012.

According to DNR records, the number of "agricultural depredation" cases fell to 15 between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 this year, resulting in 18 dead cattle, calves, sheep, goats or other four-legged livestock. In contrast, during those same months in 2011 — when the DNR couldn't kill problem wolves — the agency recorded 48 farm-depredation cases and 68 dead animals.

The DNR also recorded 48 depredation cases the first eight months of 2012, but the number of kills dropped to 50. During the same months in 2013, the DNR reported 36 cases and 44 deaths. Meanwhile, the number of bear-hunting hounds killed by wolves this year surpassed 20 for the second straight year when a female Walker killed Sept. 14 in Bayfield County boosted the toll to 21. Hunters reported 23 wolf-killed hounds in 2013.

Why are livestock losses declining while hound losses are climbing or static? With the numbers going in opposite directions, it's impossible to attribute either trend to the state's hunting/trapping season on wolves.

The most likely answer is that the DNR is actively removing "livestock-killing behavior" from the landscape whenever possible. Landowners also can kill wolves to protect livestock. Livestock depredation is considered a learned behavior, so removing "educated" wolves prevents them from teaching other wolves to do it.

In contrast, the DNR simply issues warnings and pinpoints kill locations whenever wolves slay bear hounds. Most wolf-killed hounds die during July and August while training for bear season. Few die during bear season itself in September and October, as wolves become less aggressive.
Further, no hounds were killed in December 2013 during the state's first hound-hunting season for wolves, which bagged 35 wolves.

Since 1985 in Wisconsin, wolves have killed or injured more than 300 hounds and pet dogs, of which 70 percent were hounds. Of those, about 75 percent died before mid-September's bear-hunt opener. Further, about 90 percent of pet dogs are killed before bear season. In all, about 80 percent of wolf-killed dogs fall before hunting season.

Maulings by wolves follow similar patterns. In 2010 and 2011, for example, five of eight injured hounds (62.5 percent) and eight of 10 pet dogs (80 percent) were mauled before mid-September. In all, 13 of the 18 (72 percent) maulings occurred before hunting season.

The past two years of 20-plus reported bear-hound deaths followed a low of seven wolf-killed hounds in 2012, even though the wolf population hit a modern-day high of about 850 that year. The 2014 post-winter wolf population was estimated at about 675 after the state's first two hunting/trapping seasons for wolves.

No one can say with certainty why the number of reported hound deaths dropped in 2012 after several years in the high teens and low 20s, but a contributing factor was likely near-record heat and drought-like conditions in the Northwoods. It's likely that fewer hunters risked running their hounds in such conditions.

Others speculate that fewer hunters reported wolf-killed hounds that summer because the DNR was embroiled in an emotional administrative battle and legal challenge to the first regulated wolf season. Houndsmen possibly kept quiet about their losses for fear of drawing the attention of those suing to prevent hounds from being used to hunt wolves.

After all, when wolves kill hounds that are hunting bears or being trained for bear hunting, their owners are eligible for compensation up to $2,500 per hound.

Only bear-hound hunters are begrudged such payments, even though bird hunters, rabbit hunters, pet owners, ranchers, farmers and others also are entitled to compensation for animals lost to wolves.
Speaking of our controversial wolf- and wildlife-compensation programs, contrary to popular belief, taxpayers do not fund them. When lawmakers created the wolf season in 2012, they directed that wolf-depredation compensation come from funds paid for wolf-hunt applications ($10 each), and resident and nonresident wolf hunting/trapping licenses ($49 and $251).

The $10 wolf-hunt applications provide the most funding. Roughly 21,000 people applied in 2012 ($210,000), but applications declined to about 16,000 in 2013 ($160,000) and 14,500 this year ($145,000).

Compensation revenues totaled $268,920 in 2013, more than covering the $151,333 dispersed in wolf-depredation payments. Of that amount, the DNR paid bear-hound owners $56,000 for 23 dead dogs ($2,435 average); and livestock owners $87,180 for 105 dead or missing calves, cattle and veterinary bills ($830 average).

Compensation won't be paid if dogs die during the hound-trailing season for wolves, which opens Dec. 1 if the quota isn't reached.

Although it's too soon to credit Wisconsin's hunting and trapping season for any changes in wolf behavior, the numbers suggest we're learning something: Removing depredating wolves while controlling their population in farm country might keep wolves from becoming overly troublesome neighbors for most people.

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