I put out a call to action regarding Senator Baldwin’s statement that she is for removing Wisconsin’s wolves off the endangered species list. I asked advocates to write letters to the Senator as to why she must not side with wolf delisting legislation. I received many letters that were very well thought out and that included information supporting why we must protect the Wisconsin wolf. The following letter was written by Beth Phillips. Read on:

Dear Senator Baldwin,

 I just finished reading your op-ed on the Wisconsin State Farmer website from Nov 18th regarding Wisconsin’s gray wolves. I am truly saddened and disappointed in your anti-wolf stance, the perpetuation of the misguided “big, bad wolf” myth, and the lack of science, research, and cited sources that went into your statement, Instead the piece was filled with the almost word-for-word, undocumented, decades-old rhetoric and false talking points put forth by big Ag and the anti-wildlife, trophy hunting special interest groups.

 I would like to dispel some of these inaccurate, false, and fear-mongering myths regarding wolves.

 Your op-ed appears to blame wolves for decimating deer, elk, and other wildlife populations.

 The following statistics come directly from the WI DNR website. Based on the 2015 over-winter deer numbers by county, there were approximately 1.2 million deer in the state in 2016. The WI DNR estimates that a single wolf kills approximately 20 whitetail deer per year for food. Even if one uses the current estimate of 900 wolves in the state (which I believe is higher than what it is, due to their elusive nature and poaching), wolves then account for 18,000 deer kills. The 2016 deer kill totals for the gun (196,785), archery (43,832), cross bow (35,337), muzzle loader (4,144), and youth (8,799) hunts totaled just under 298,000 deer taken killed by humans. In doing some simple math, wolves were responsible for only killing 1.5% of the total deer population, while human hunting alone (not counting deaths from deer-car collisions) accounted for killing over 24% of the total deer population.

 One very interesting statistic from the 2016 Wisconsin deer hunt was that in the Northern Forest Zone (where most Wisconsin wolves reside) there was a 30% increase in antlered and a 21% increase in antlerless deer killed by hunters compared to 2015. These statistics resoundingly refute the claim that wolves are decimating the deer herds.

 I would instead argue that wolves are making the deer and other prey animals healthier and can prevent the spread of diseases such as CWD. Top wolf scientists such as Doug Smith, Yellowstone Wildlife Biologist who spear-headed the 1995 wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone, believe that wolves can stop the spread of and potentially eliminate CWD. Wolves are experts at studying their prey and singling out and culling the sick and weak. Per the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, the earlier infected animals are killed, the less opportunity they to spread the disease.

 I would also make the argument that a healthy wolf population makes the forests healthier. The Nature Conservancy (a hunter-friendly land conservation group) has stated that they believe deer overpopulation and over browsing is the biggest single threat to forest habitat – greater then fire suppression, human encroachment, or climate change. The TNC has documented that not only has decades of deer over browsing resulted in many tree species declines, but also has had indirect effects on songbird population declines.

 Your op-ed leads one to believe that wolves are on the brink of attacking and killing people.

 Per the WI DNR website, wolves innately shy away from humans, avoid contact with them, and that wolf-human contacts are extremely rare. They are more likely to occur when wolves are habituated to people, when dogs are involved, or if wolves are sick (e.g. rabies).  

 A 2002 report from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Wildlife found that there had been no human deaths in the lower 48 attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900. Since that report a northern Saskatchewan man was killed by wolves after regularly feeding them and a woman was killed in a rural Alaskan community. Any death is tragic, but as the statistics show, non-habituated, heathy wolves killing humans is virtually nonexistent.

 Your op-ed suggests that wolves are decimating farmers’ livestock and that reinstating a wolf hunt would reduce the livestock depredations.

 I would be remiss if I stated that wolf livestock depredations don’t happen. Unfortunately, they sometimes do. Wisconsin does compensate livestock farmers for their losses. I would state that I believe that some of the claimed depredations are unfairly blamed on wolves. A rancher just must have one confirmed wolf depredation and then can pin the blame on wolves for any other missing livestock and receive compensation – no proof needed.

 Reinstating a wolf hunt and killing wolves to prevent livestock depredation just does not work. Washington State University ecologist, Rob Wielgus, authored a study that found that killing a wolf increased the likelihood that wolves would prey on livestock.

 Another study by a team of scientists, including UW-Madison researcher Adrian Treves, showed that non-lethal methods were more effective than lethal methods on livestock predation. This study, like the one mentioned before, also showed an increase in livestock predation after lethal predator control was used.

 There are many methods of non-lethal methods for predator control, and many organizations willing to help farmers and ranchers with these non-lethal methods. I also just read an article from December of this year stating the USFWS announced $900,000 in grants to 8 states (Wisconsin being one of those states) to assist livestock producers in undertaking proactive, non-lethal activities to reduce the risk of livestock loss from wolves, and to compensate producers for livestock losses caused wolves.

 Your op-ed failed to mention the Wisconsin’s use of hounds in wolf hunting.

 Wisconsin is the only state to allow this barbaric practice. It is nothing more than legalized dog-fighting, and if you are for the reinstatement of a wolf hunt in Wisconsin, you are condoning this sadistic practice. If you have ever seen any video of hound-wolf interactions, or hounds attacking other wildlife they come upon while running loose, it is perhaps the most horrific sight I have ever seen.

 Even though there is currently no wolf hunting season, WI bear hunters can run their hounds during hound bear training and hunting season. Even though 2012 and 2016 have similar wolf population numbers, the number of hounds killed in each of those years was drastically different – 7 hounds in 2012 and 40 in 2016. Adrian Wydeven, coordinator of the Timber Wolf Alliance and former WI DNR wolf biologist, states that the record number of hounds killed by wolves this year does not necessarily correlate with the wolf population, as proven with the record low number of hounds killed in 2012 with a similar wolf population. He states instead, the changes in bear hunting policy may be a major factor in the wolf-hound kills – the removal of permits and fees to bait bears and the length that bear hunters can bait bears (145 days, compared to 31 days in other states), has led to a drastic increase in the number of hunters (many from out of the state) baiting bears and training hounds in known wolf areas.

 My last plea to you comes from the heart. I saw my first wild wolf while backpacking in Yellowstone in 2005 – for me it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Two out of the last 3 years I have traveled to Yellowstone to watch wolves. Have you ever seen a wolf in the wild? Have you ever watched a pack of wolves interact – showing love, compassion, family bonds, and loyalty? Have you ever heard a wolf pack howl in the wild? Before you unleash this death sentence on wolves I challenge you, Senator Baldwin, to travel to Yellowstone and learn about and watch wolves living in the wild. I guarantee it would be a life-changing experience, and perhaps you would become a champion of wolves instead of leading this witch hunt.

 Please show me you are truly the progressive Senator I voted for in 2012. Your constituents and the wolves must live (and die) with the decisions you make. Please remember, extinction is forever.

 Thank you for taking the time to read this.

 Beth Phillips

 

About Beth Phillips

Beth is a lifelong resident of the Milwaukee, WI area. Beth discovered the joys of backpacking in her 30s, and the peace and healing found in nature compelled her to advocate for our remaining wild spaces and wildlife. Beth loves the outdoors, nature, and animals, and currently reside with her 4-legged, furry best friend, “Abbey.”

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Featured image by John E Marriott