Saturday, April 11, 2015

#Wolves trapped in response to attacks on dogs

File photo of a sign warning people of a trap for wolves.

Warren Peterson of Duluth Township was walking his dog Brewer a couple weeks ago when the shepherd-lab mix darted off ahead of him. It would be the last time Peterson would see his dog alive.
"We were just walking down in the morning and he took off and I heard a yelp," Peterson said Tuesday. "By the time I got there, there were about four wolves killing him."

Peterson called the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to report the killing. Brewer was the fifth dog killed in DNR enforcement officer Kipp Duncan's coverage area since October, Duncan said. Two of those dogs have been killed in Duluth Township and two in Normanna Township. Duncan's coverage area borders Lake County, stretching from Brimson south to Lake Superior and west to Rice Lake.

In response, the United States Department of Agriculture's wildlife services division has set a number of traps for wolves, including two between Duluth and Two Harbors and one north of Two Harbors. Trappers check the traps daily and euthanize any wolves found. "They're usually not lethal traps," said Nancy Hansen, the area wildlife manager for the DNR in Two Harbors. "They are meant to catch something and if it's the wrong animal, it can be released."

According to John Hart, the district supervisor of wildlife services at the USDA, seven wolves have been trapped in the area so far. In 2012, the DNR took over management of wolves after they were removed from the federal endangered species list. A December 2014 court decision put the wolves back under federal protection.

Trapping a solution?

When a wolf attacks livestock or a pet, it is known as depredation. Between 2006 and 2012, there was an average of 100 verified wolf depredation complaints annually in all of Minnesota, according to the Minnesota DNR.

Since wolves in Minnesota are classified as threatened, not endangered, it is the only state in the Great Lakes region that allows federal trappers to kill wolves near where livestock and pets are killed or injured.

Last August, one dog was killed and another was injured in Grand Marais, according to the Cook County News Herald. At least two wolves were trapped in response to the incidents, and no dog killings have been reported in the news since.

Hart of the USDA said trapping has proven effective when wolves pose a threat to domestic animals.
"It seems to have been a pretty successful model over the years," he said. "We've proven we can reduce damages, at least for a time."

Maureen Hackett, the founder and president of Howling for Wolves, a wolf-advocacy organization, has been vocal in her opinion that government agencies should not be trapping and killing wolves.
"Killing more wolves in response to killing a pet is not the way to go," Hackett said. "I think we're creating potentially more problems with wolves."

Hackett pointed to a study done by Washington State University researchers, published in 2014, that said it's "counter-productive to kill wolves to keep them from preying on livestock," according to a release from the university. "Shooting and trapping lead to more dead sheep and cattle the following year, not fewer."

"People need to know the downsides of trapping out wolves," Hackett said.

She said her organization was unaware that government agencies were trapping wolves in this area after attacks on dogs, but that such actions should not be allowed under the Endangered Species Act.

She also said the DNR's 2001 wolf management plan, which allows trapping in depredation control areas, should not be valid anymore, since the DNR strayed from said plan by allowing a hunt without a five-year moratorium after wolves were delisted.

"I think we're in a new era of them going back to a plan that really wasn't followed," Hackett said.
"This is our DNR cherry-picking a plan that is not valid."

The federal government and state of Minnesota split the $220,000 cost of the wolf-trapping program for 2015. The program has been used for decades in Minnesota to help relieve concerns of farmers and ranchers, and reduce tensions over wolf populations in the state.

Why the conflict?

Hansen said with deer numbers down, and more deer residing in areas of human development, wolves are also being pushed into more populated areas.

"The wolves have had to really move and find where their food is located and that's put them into conflict with more people," she said.

Hansen said that interfering with the natural order by feeding animals can also cause undesirable ripple effects. That was the case with some wolf pups during the summer of 2013 in Brimson that set up camp near Hugo's Bar after passers by fed them frequently. Feeding deer also keeps them closer to residences, in turn bringing in their predators.

"Feeding deer, bears or wolves can be detrimental for all of those species," Hansen said. "Wild animals do best when left to their own devices."

Keeping pets safe

Under state management, wolves could be shot by a homeowner if there was an imminent threat to livestock or domestic animals. After a December 2014 court decision put the wolves back under federal protection, that ability went away. Now, Minnesotans can only kill a wolf if it is threatening a human.

"I think people are feeling kind of helpless or worried," said Dan Thomasen, a lieutenant at the Two Harbors DNR office.

There is no way to guarantee an outdoor pet's safety, but Thomasen said some steps can be taken to keep them safe, including keeping them close — even if a dog is well-behaved, it's best to keep them on a leash when walking them.

Dan Stark, the carnivore specialist for the DNR, said a fence is the best option, but at the least, outdoor pets should have an indoor shelter. Clearing brush around yards and installing motion-activated lights helps, he said. Using an air horn or other noise-making device can scare wolves away. Finally, Stark said, don't give wolves a reason to visit your yard.

"Keep a clean yard," he said. "Don't dispose of food or garbage in the yard. Don't leave pet food outside and keep garbage secured."