The grey wolf is in Wisconsin’s spotlight.
Shortly after the federal government removed the animal from the endangered species list, the state created a wolf hunt to begin this October.
With little time to spare, the DNR designed rules for the first season.
The agency is proposing a harvest of 201 wolves, with some zones more heavily targeted than others.
Tuesday the seven-member Natural Resources Board will vote on the DNR’s proposed rules at a special meeting in Stevens Point.
WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence looks at the polarizing positions the wolf – and its upcoming hunt – are raising.
Three hundred forty-four people – some representing themselves; others groups – dispatched messages to the Natural Resources Board during the prescribed comment period on the wolf hunt rules
The Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau like what they see.
They jointly stated their support for a wolf hunting season due to, quote, “the wolf depredation experiences by livestock farmers in the northern half of the state.”
Bob Welch says his group - the Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition - rallied around the issue of lost livestock as well as broader concerns.
“There’s been a concern for many years that there have been too many wolves and it has affected the populations of other games animals, but also there’s been a concern of wolves eating hunting dogs,” Welch says.
Welch calls his group the preeminent voice for hunters in Wisconsin and says it helped funnel a lot of energy into delisting the wolf.
“Both in terms of advocating here at the state, but also in terms of hiring lawyers in DC to assist us in pushing this forward on the national level,” Welch says.
Welch’s group considers hunting and trapping to be integral to sound wolf management.
“And so we did get involved with the legislators that were interested in that; they approached us for our advice, and so did the department...And now we’re continuing to work with the DNR and the Natural Resources Board to see that the rules come out the way we think they should as well,” Welch says.
Wisconsin’s hunting and trapping law spells out its season – October 15 to the end of February – along with such elements as the use of dogs and cable restraints.
Welch says the statute’s attention to detail frees the DNR to focus on “the science side”.
“How many wolves should be taken, what should be the quotas, where should be the zones, you know, all of those decisions are left to the DNR,” Welch says.
Adrian Treves believes that science is the very element missing from the new wolf hunt law.
Treves is a wolf management and conservation expert with UW-Madison.
He and peers independently reviewed the data DNR biologists collected tracking wolf packs during their long restoration process.
“The current rules that are being promulgated for the wolf hunting season were not developed in close collaboration with the wolf science advisory committee,” Treves says.
One concern Treves and other scientists have raised, is Wisconsin’s new law allowing hunters to use dogs to track down wolves.
David Clausen is well acquainted with the issue.
He chairs the Natural Resources Board.
“I’m a vet and my whole career has been spent with issues around animal welfare and as I look at this I am certainly concerned. These animals basically hunt by using their eyesight to spot the prey and then their superior speed to run it down and they grab it and they kill it and by any definition that is an animal fight,” Clausen says.
Despite concerns about pitting dogs and wolves, the law has built in that provision.
“Unfortunately the board doesn’t have any way to alter what the Legislature has done. There is going to be a wolf hunt, there will be night hunting, there will be dogs. All of this stuff was laid out in the legislation,” Clausen says.
Clausen calls Wisconsin’s prescribed hunt in the wake of the wolf’s delisting a balancing act.
“To be able to control these number and be able to reach some kind of a goal without going under and resulting in delisting or possible extirpation of the wolf; it’s going to take some real work to be able to do this,” Clausen says.
Russ Bass won’t be cuing up to comment at the Natural Resources Board meeting Tuesday, but he has mulled over the grey wolf issue.
“It’s a majestic animal; but I’ve had a few scares, and so now I’m kind of changing my mind about them,” Bass says.
Bass is an avid deer hunter and has spent decades tramping the forested reaches of the state.
“We tend to go out in the dark to get to our tree stand to wait for it to get light out and on my out to the stand one morning, I knew that there was a pack of wolves not too far away and as soon as I got to a spot where I was upwind of them, where they could smell me, they started howling like crazy, the whole pack and it kind of made me want to get to my stand as quick as possible; cause I hunt in a tree, so I get up where they can’t go,” Bass says.
Still, when the first hunt rolls around, Bass won’t be vying for a license.
“I’m first and foremost a meat hunter and I would not eat a wolf, so there’s no reason for me to want to kill one,” Bass says.
It’s now up to the Natural Resources Board to weigh in on how a native predator can fit into our 21st century world.