I could not agree more with Rep. Reid Ribble's claim that we should let the experts make decisions regarding Wisconsin's gray wolves.
Unfortunately, politically entrenched, vocal and powerful hunting, trapping and livestock groups have been the only forces influencing wolf management decisions here in Wisconsin. An aggressive, misinformation campaign has been raging, and wolves continue to face persecutionsupported by false claims and blatant lies of those who want to eradicate wolves as if they were vermin. And although these special interest groups and their politicians have taken the reins to slash wolf populations in the guise of 'conservation,' nowhere does actual science support the need to kill wolves.
Wolves have been framed as the enemy, and the scientific community is very concerned. So much, that 50 renowned wildlife biologists, experts and researchers from around the country released an urgent letter calling on Congress to consider the overwhelming science that gray wolf populationsare nowhere near recovered. In fact, approximately 360,000 square miles—70 percent of identified suitable wolf habitat—still remains unoccupied. Accordingly, the best available science indicates that the gray wolf population remains threatened throughout a significant portion of its range.
Wildlife biologists warn this continued threat on wolves will have significant impacts all the way down the food chain. Over millions of years the wolf has evolved to play a crucial role in regulating its ecosystem, from the survival of trees and riverbank vegetation to the health of the populations of their prey. It is a beautiful, complex tapestry that shows the level of interaction that must happen between apex predators and their environment for the full health of the system.
The threat of depredation by wolves on livestock has been an ongoing concern for Wisconsin farmers. Lethal control will only relieve conflict temporarily. Eventually, new wolves will move into the vacated territory and the cycle of loss will continue—unless the root cause is addressed.Modern, non-lethal methods of prevention have shown to successfully reduce depredations, if implemented properly. However, we have yet to so much as see Wisconsin bat an eye at exploring any non-lethal methods of wolf management.
Furthermore, the lethal approach has biologists concerned that these types of conflicts will only be enhanced. What happens to a wolf pack if the family breadwinners are killed? Young wolves need pack leaders to teach them how to hunt. Losing the strong, savvy wolves can be devastating to the entire pack dynamic. Take the biggest and best hunters out of a pack, and you turn the rest into depredators. For the less skilled, it is much easier to kill a sheep than it is to run down a deer.
Wolves may also pose a threat to dogs, but hardly to the "family pet" kind that Mr. Ribble is alluding to. According to the WDNR's own records, nearly 95 percent of dogs killed by wolves were hunting hounds. Wisconsin is the only state to allow wolf hounding and also permit hunters to run their hounds on wolves and other wildlife for training 24/7, year-round. When these dog packs meet up with wolves, does it come as a surprise to us that there is death and maiming on both sides? Wolf hounding is no more than an orchestrated dog fight and inhumane act of slaughter that should have no place in modern society. So perhaps what Mr. Ribble should be calling for, rather than managing wolves to "protect our dogs," we should instead bring an end to the barbaric and unnecessary blood sport of hound hunting.
Wolves are a very misunderstood and misrepresented species. It appears our wildlife agencies will permit just enough numbers to survive so those who enjoy killing will have enough to satisfy their hatred for wolves. What about the overwhelming scientific evidence that says wolves are crucial to the health of our forests?
Any legislation that interferes with existing federal wolf protections would not only be harmful to wolf recovery, but it would also undermine one of the most effective and important environmental laws in US history. The entire wolf restoration program was guided by directives contained in the Endangered Species Act, a law created to ground a cornerstone of science that says the healthiest, most stable natural systems tend to be those with high levels of biodiversity. It is time to revisit this very principle and make wolf management decisions based on hard science—not political agendas.
Perhaps Rep. Reid Ribble and his political counterparts should step aside, so that the true experts may be heard.
Britt Ricci is a UW-Madison graduate of Geography and Environmental Studies living in the heart of wolf country in northern Wisconsin, and a published writer for Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, a grassroots organization founded in 2012.