Wisconsin's Controversial Wolf Management Policy Sparks Wildlife Conservation Conference

Jul 15, 2015

Days before the Wolf and Wildlife Coexistence and Conservation Initiative was to be held in Baraboo, Wisconsin, organizers learned DNR staff would not be in attendance.

“Unfortunately, we did learn that the Wisconsin DNR leadership has banned their staff from attending the conference, including their lead wolf biologist,” Adrian Treves says. He heads UW-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies’ Carnivore Coexistence Lab.

The two-day conference will focus on the coexistence of people and wildlife and will feature speakers and panelists from Wisconsin and well beyond –places such as South Africa and Mexico.

Conference organizer Jodi Habush Sinykin with Midwest Environmental Advocates believes the DNR is closing itself off from citizens whom they serve.

DNR spokesperson Bill Cosh provided the following comment: 

DNR staff were invited to attend but not participate in this conference.  We attended a similar conference in April where several of the groups involved presented similar information.  The agency communicates regularly with the tribes on wolf related issues. We receive input from a number of the participating groups through their inclusion on the DNR wolf advisory committee.  We look forward to working with all citizens of the state as we continue to make wolf management decisions. 

Jodi Habush Sinykin says although a federal judge has effectively placed Wisconsin’s wolf hunt on hold by placing wolves of the western Great Lakes region back on the endangered list, Sinykin worries that some members of Congress are pursuing legislation that would de-list them once again.

Though concern about Wisconsin’s wolf management sparked the conference, Sinykin says it is about more than one species.

“Wolves will be discussed in some of the scientific presentations and some of the advocacy presentations, but this is much broader. This is about wildlife management in keeping with public trust principles, best available science and representative democracy,” Sinykin says.

Fellow organizer, Adrian Treves of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies’ Carnivore Coexistence Lab says he hopes the event will be an annual opportunity to broaden the discussion.

“We’re not talking about extreme voices. We’re talking about mainstream scientists, mainstream hunters, we’re talking about people with a strong interest in the future of wildlife here in this state,” Treves says.

He says respected social scientists will share the podium.

“There’s been a shortage of good social science information at the policy level relating to wildlife in Wisconsin but also across the country,” Treves says.

Treves says social scientists have a great deal to contribute “when they focus particularly on how people use and enjoy wildlife, where they do it, and what drives their support or rejection of certain conservation policy."

The Ho Chunk Nation and Forest County Potawatomi collaborated in putting the conference together.

Jodi Habush Sinykin says their involvement was essential "to ensure that their values and their wisdom is reflected in the discussion of wildlife resources, our democratic processes and the public trust."She adds, "It is a voice that is regrettably is often overlooked in the development of wildlife policy and this conference certainly will lend voice and strength to that."

Adrian Treves points to the speech to be presented by Jeannine McManus from South Africa. She is an expert on methods to handle carnivore attacks on livestock.

“She conducted one of the best experimental studies whether lethal or nonlethal methods work, or are cost effective in the South Africa. We need to hear from her because those studies have not done sufficiently in Wisconsin, and never on lethal controls,” Treves says.

Both Sinykin and Treves say this week’s gathering is the first step in a long process of bringing a more comprehensive and scientific look at how we can serve wildlife in Wisconsin and beyond.