Friday, October 21, 2016

Are high wolf numbers driving hunting dog attacks?


 
A gray wolf rests in the snow. National Park Service photo
 
A former state wildlife biologist contends Wisconsin's high wolf numbers may not be the driving factor behind a record 40 hunting dogs killed by wolves during the bear season that ended Oct. 11.
Timber Wolf Alliance Coordinator Adrian Wydeven, a former wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the state saw fewer dogs killed by wolves the last time Wisconsin's wolf population was this high.

"The previous high count of 815 (wolves) in 2012 had only seven dogs killed that year, and that was the lowest wolf depredation on dogs in about 10 years," Wydeven said.

The number of wolves in Wisconsin grew about 16 percent this year with a minimum estimate of 867. Dave MacFarland, the state's large carnivore specialist, said a number of things could have played a role in the number of dogs killed this bear-hunting season.

"Wolf population levels are one of them, but we don't have hard information that we can point to and don't want to speculate on what may have caused this change," he said. "We'll have to wait and see if this repeats itself."

Wydeven said a possible increase in hunting activities due to permitting changes last year may also be driving a rise in conflicts. Last year, lawmakers eliminated Class B bear licenses for those who wanted to assist hunters with setting baits or training.

"If we're allowing much more open policy, allowing a lot more people to participate in that activity, that could account for the increases of hound depredations in Wisconsin," Wydeven said.

But MacFarland said it's not known what impact the permitting change may have had on hunter activity this year.

Wildlife officials have said wolves may also be more protective of their pups during bear season and the training of hunting dogs beforehand. Research also suggests the length of Wisconsin's bear baiting season may play a role in higher numbers of attacks on hunting dogs than neighboring states. Bear hunters can set baits as early as mid-April in Wisconsin, whereas states such as Michigan don't allow baiting until two weeks before the beginning of the season.

Wydeven said the longer baits are used, the more likely they'll attract wolves.

"When hunters release their dogs at the bear baits to go chase bears, there's a chance if wolves have recently visited the site, they could be sending their dogs after wolves," Wydeven said.

Joseph Bump, an associate professor with Michigan Technological University, was lead author of a 2013 study that found hunting dogs were up to seven times more likely to be killed by wolves in Wisconsin than in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"If stakeholders are sincerely interested in decreasing wolves killing hunting dogs, then there's good wildlife science to suggest that both the timing and length of the bear baiting season is a factor that should be on the table for discussion and potential adjustment," Bump said.

Bump is continuing research in Michigan on how frequently species other than bears visit bait sites. He expects those findings will become available next year.

Bear hunters in Minnesota are not allowed to use dogs while hunting.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news.

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