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Wisconsin Wolf Hunt Snags Attention



Sunday, November 02, 2014
By Paul A. Smith

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Time was when deer management had no rival as the most controversial realm of Wisconsin wildlife management.

Those days are gone. In fact a relatively new program makes deer issues seem tame: wolf management.

The 2014 Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping season opened last Wednesday. Through seven days, 96 wolves have been registered out of a statewide quota of 150, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The pace of wolf kills has surpassed the rate in the previous two seasons. The roughly 1,100 licensed hunters and trappers know the season is likely to be short and have been actively trying to fill their tags from the opening day, according to DNR reports.

The wolf kill also has heightened attention on Wisconsin from both ends of the spectrum and from outside state borders.

Wolves inspire an emotional response in humans, good and bad. The last week has provided ample evidence.

A group called Great Lakes Wolf Patrol set up camp in northern Wisconsin and pledged to “monitor” activities of wolf hunters and trappers. It hopes to find evidence of violations.

The group is led by Rod Coronado, an animal rights activist who was jailed in 1995 in connection with an arson attack on research facilities at Michigan State University.

Of course, patrol members are at high risk of a ticket. State law prohibits interference or harassment of hunters and trappers.

As of earlier this week, the wolf patrol reported no violations that resulted in citations, according to DNR sources. Its members also were not involved in any violent confrontations with the public.

Two patrol members did encounter a trapper in the field and secretly videotaped the exchange. The group posted the video to its Facebook page and YouTube.

The trapper no doubt disappointed the patrol. He was polite, knowledgeable, well-spoken and, from all appearances, legal.

Ted Nugent, the musician and outdoor television celebrity, weighed in from the other side.

“Though no state has issued an adequate number of wolf tags, believe when I tell you that certain WE THE PEOPLE in touch caring Americans are killing MANY MANY more wolves than the numbnut corrupt dishonest PC government thugs allow,” Nugent wrote in an Oct. 17 Facebook post. “Kill as many as you can real conservationists. The wolf population is irresponsibly & dangerously out of control. Wolf jackets ROCK!!”

Nugent’s call to violate game laws only hurts the future of hunting.

Somewhere in the middle Dave MacFarland, DNR large carnivore specialist, leads the state’s wolf management program.

He knows the facts: Wolves are recovered in Wisconsin; wolves are not the leading cause of deer mortality; the wolf hunting and trapping season has exerted downward pressure on the Wisconsin population but not put it at risk; a majority of Wisconsin residents value wolves and support the current wolf population; a majority of residents support some form of population control to reduce wolf depredations and protect public safety; wolf depredations on livestock in Wisconsin have declined markedly since 2012.

Just this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the upper Midwest wolf population increased slightly to 3,719 animals over the last year, even as two states held hunting and trapping seasons. Wisconsin wildlife officials set a more moderate wolf kill goal of 150 this year, down from 251 last year.

But MacFarland’s job is made more difficult by the emotions surrounding the wolf.

At least in deer hunting the debate is over how many deer there are or how many there should be. With the wolf, not only do people on both sides of the issue disbelieve wolf population estimates, they argue about the need for a “public harvest.”

The wolf hunting and trapping law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker in April 2012 added powder to the keg.

The original law allowed night hunting of wolves. Although the provision was removed in the 2013 state budget, Chippewa tribes in Wisconsin have used it as part of their justification for pursuing night deer hunting rights in the ceded territory.

The law included another rule that has increased opposition to the hunt: the use of dogs. Wisconsin is the only state to allow dogs in wolf hunting and training.

Further, the law required the season to open Oct. 15, earlier in the year than many trappers wanted, and set rules for 24-hour reporting of wolf kills and 24-hour closure of wolf zones.

The reporting and closure rules have resulted in quotas being exceeded in some cases, including this year, when two of four zones exceeded their kill goals. The Humane Society of the United States has called on the DNR to immediately adjust its management methods and requested an early closure to the last two zones.

A Wisconsin wolf season was always going to be controversial.

American Indian tribes are adamantly opposed to wolf hunting and trapping. And many other state citizens who long supported wolf recovery are against the species’ new classification as a game animal.

And, of course, there are those who are against hunting and trapping of any type for any animal. One could argue the wolf has more protectionists in its corner than any other species.

Wisconsin wildlife officials would have preferred, I’m certain, to draft rules in collaboration with the public rather than been handed so many so soon by the Legislature.

The Legislature forced the agency to open a wolf hunting and trapping season before it had updated its wolf management plan. The current plan was written in 1999; it sets the wolf population goal at 350.

Wolves showed the biological carrying capacity in Wisconsin is at least two times higher. And based on a 2014 DNR public attitude study, a majority of Wisconsin residents support at least as many wolves as the state had when the survey was conducted (about 650).

The threats, gimmicks and spouting off at the mouth will fade soon enough. The DNR will do its best to keep the wolf kill close to its 2014 quota.

And hopefully it will ignore the distractions and use the best available science to guide the next, most important aspect of Wisconsin wolf management — the 2015 wolf management plan. A preliminary draft of the plan is due in December, with public hearings likely to start in January.