Saturday, June 6, 2015

#Wolves in Wisconsin

Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2015 
In anticipation of Wisconsin regaining control over its gray wolf population, the Polk County Board passed a resolution May 19 in support of keeping wolf numbers to 350 or fewer in the state. The resolution chiefly concerns wolves in northern Wisconsin, where the core population resides.
According to the Department of Natural Resources — the agency tasked with management of the wolf population, hypothetical for now because the animal is on the endangered species list — Wisconsin’s wolf population was between 658 and 687 in early 2014, down from 782 in 2010.
The 350 maximum was established in 1999 by the DNR, based on prey availability and human populations. The number was reviewed and confirmed in 2007.

David MacFarland, large carnivore specialist for Wisconsin’s DNR, said that when the number was established, there were about 200 wolves in the state, and 350 was set as a goal. There has been some debate since over whether it was ever meant to be considered a cap.

According to MacFarland, the resolution Polk’s board approved is a citizen-led initiative meant to influence the agency as it creates a wolf management plan. “The DNR is in the process of writing a species management plan that would contain various objectives,” said MacFarland. ‘The resolution is aimed at pressuring the DNR to adopt a population of 350.”
According to MacFarland, whether the DNR adopts that number or not, it will first approach the public. The agency is planning to hold meetings throughout the state from mid to late summer to ask the public what kind of wolf management it would like.

Among Polk County Board members, reasons for reducing the wolf population included wolves’ threat to deer, livestock, pets and humans. “When you have a high wolf population, they affect the deer,” said Supervisor Patricia Schmidt, Luck, as she introduced the resolution. “[Wolves] affect the farm livestock and family pets.”
Board Chair William Johnson noted that he wasn’t aware of any claims that had come to the Community, Development, Recreation and Education Committee for damage done by wolves, but he imagined that predation on the deer population was evident.

The lone voice of objection to the 350 maximum came from Supervisor Warren Nelson, Amery. “I have a problem limiting wolves for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Wolves control the deer and elk populations, which protects vegetation from being over-consumed.”
Nelson cited the re-balancing of the ecosystem in Yellowstone National Park after wolves were reintroduced there as evidence of his assertion.

According to Nelson — and contrary to the idea that wolf predation costs the county in claims for damage to livestock and pets — Polk approves more claims for damage done by deer, which get into feed and crops, than by wolves.

Nelson went on to question the legitimacy of the resolution’s claim that wolves are a threat to people.
“I’ve never heard of a documented case of a wolf attacking a human, and I see that’s part of this resolution, to protect humans,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. … I think it would be reckless to kill off half of the wolf population.”

Supervisor Jay Luke, Amery, defended the population goal, saying that the maximum had been established through a series of hearings, with experts weighing in to set a number for a healthy population. The limit is meant to keep wolves from expanding into high-population areas.

Luke also argued that special interest groups were responsible for the wolf’s current protected listing.
“They sit in an urban area and dictate what we should be doing in western Wisconsin,” said Luke. “I’m in full support of this to let our government do what’s necessary to control what we believe is a problem.”

Supervisor Ken Sample, Amery, said he’d support a population decrease, at least for now.
“This isn’t an absolute,” said Sample. “It’s a pendulum that’s constantly in motion. Right now the motion is to take care of some immediate needs where things are a little out of balance. If it is a little too stringent, those people that are interested parties will make sure it comes back the other way.” 
All but Nelson voted to support the resolution, but in the county it’s likely that 40 percent of residents would have voted against it. In a large-scale DNR survey of Wisconsin residents done in preparation for drafting the agency’s management plan, residents in a cluster of counties consisting of Polk, Barron, Dunn and Chippewa were split almost down the middle when it came to reducing current numbers. Twenty-seven percent thought the population should be reduced and 13 percent thought there should be no wolves. Twenty-five percent thought the population should be maintained and 16 percent thought there should be more wolves. Nineteen percent didn’t feel informed enough to weigh in.

As long as the gray wolf remains on the endangered species list, the issue is theoretical.

After being delisted in January 2012, the species was relisted in western Great Lakes states in a December 2014 federal ruling. The decision was based on an interpretation of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, not the wolf’s population status.

According to MacFarland, the large carnivore specialist, another delisting in Wisconsin is not imminent, but legislative and appeals processes have begun with that goal in mind.

In February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed notice of appeal of the 2014 ruling, which starts the clock to file a formal appeal. Once filed, the appeal process would likely take a year or more.

Also in February, Wisconsin Representative Reid Ribble introduced a congressional bill, HR 884, that would delist gray wolves in the Great Lakes region. Minnesota Representative John Kline has introduced a similar bill, HR 843. “These congressional avenues could happen quickly,” said MacFarland, “but predicting Congress’ behavior is difficult.”