The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest region made the remarks in a letter to UW-Madison environmental professor Adrian Treves, the leader of a group of scientists who complained to the federal agency last month that the state Department of Natural Resources wolf population estimates are flawed and mortality is much higher than the DNR reports. The group urged the USFWS to re-list Wisconsin wolves as endangered pending a review.
The latest Wisconsin DNR estimates put Wisconsin’s wolf population at somewhere between 660 and 689 animals, down from 809 to 824 animals in 2012-2013. The scientists believe the DNR has under-reported wolf mortality at 28.22 percent when it could actually be within the 35 percent to 55 percent range for the 18 months through June 2013.
Charles Wooley, the USFWS’ acting Midwest director, said in the letter Tuesday that Wisconsin’s wolf population hasn’t decreased enough to raise any red flags. He said the federal agency wouldn’t consider re-listing unless the combined Wisconsin-Michigan population estimate dropped to 200 or fewer wolves or 100 or fewer in either state.
He also stressed that USFWS is no longer the entity that protects the wolf since it has reached recovery goals. He said his region will continue to monitor Great Lakes wolves for another four years but for now the managing agency in Wisconsin is the DNR.
He noted that the DNR has dramatically reduced its wolf hunt kill limits from 251 animals last year to 150 this year and if the scientists have problems with the DNR’s population estimate methodology they should talk to that agency.
“Wolf numbers remain well above levels that we cited as potential causes for concern,” Wooley wrote. “We have confidence that the state is providing a defensible population estimate for monitoring purposes and understand that the State may manage the wolf population in the long term with the goal of reducing overall numbers below what was present at the time of delisting.”
Treves said Friday morning he hadn’t seen the letter. A DNR spokesman had no immediate comment.
Wisconsin’s 2014-15 wolf hunt is set to begin on Wednesday. The season will run until Feb. 28 or until hunters reach the kill limit, whichever comes first.