It wasn’t that long ago when Richard Thiel spent every weekend snowshoeing along the Wisconsin Minnesota border in Douglas county searching for established wolf packs.  When he found established wolf packs in Wisconsin the Department of Natural Resources had to give him an office.  That’s when Wisconsin’s wild wolf recovery program began in the late 1970s.  

When I began tracking wolves in Douglas County Wisconsin there were 66 wolf packs (the year 2000). I could of never imagined that eleven years later wolves would be designated a game animal to be hunted as a prized trophy animal.  It did happen on December 28, 2011 “Gray Wolves Delisted in Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment” by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Shortly after wolves were delisted the Wisconsin legislature, pushed by Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and others, on April 2, 2011 Act 169 mandated a wolf hunt. Not only did the Wisconsin legislature mandate a wolf hunt for when they were delisted, but they sanctioned the use of dogs to hunt wolves. When the Wisconsin wolf isn’t listed on the Endangered Species List he’s hunted down with hounds. The barbaric wolf-hounding used for centuries in Europe to exterminate the Gray wolf was now part of Wisconsin’s trophy hunt of wolves. 

Out of all the states that hunt wolves, only Wisconsin allows hound hunters  to use unleashed packs of dogs to hunt wolves. Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to the wolves.”Hound hunters traditionally train their dogs to focus on specific prey by releasing their dogs to surround, attack and terrorize a prey animal (e.g. a bear cub or fox) for hours on end (up to 16 hours/day) enclosed in a small, open barrel or “roll cage.” At this point it remains disturbingly unclear as to how hound hunters will train their dogs to pursue wolves instead of other animals—will it be by capturing wolves and allowing their dogs to attack them in barrels and pens? How isn’t this worse than illegal dog fighting? 

Holding a trophy hunt on an endangered animal just off the list should never be tolerated, but in Wisconsin it’s legislatively mandated, and considered wolf management.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, charged with overseeing the wolf hunt, has no rules in place that require hound handlers to report dogs injured or killed in the pursuit of wolves during a hunt. In fact, there is no monitoring or certification program whatsoever in place for the use of dogs in the wolf hunt; thus the state has little ability to hold hound hunters accountable for training or hunting violations or to prevent deadly and inhumane wolf-dog confrontations (e.g., hunters allowing dogs to overtake and kill rifle-shot wolves). These circumstances explain why Wisconsin stands alone: using dogs to hunt wolves is no better than state-sponsored dog fighting

At present, there is a push in congress to delist wolves in the Great Lakes in spite of several court rulings that returned the Gray wolf back on to the Endangered Species List.  A federal court retained federal protection for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region, ruling that the government made crucial errors when it dropped them from the endangered species list five years ago. Several lawmakers in congress want the wolf off the ESA and put back into the hands of state management.  Senate bill 1514-Help the Wildlife Act, and H.R. 424-Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017 along with toxic riders attached that take away any judicial review of this decision are in congress ready to be voted on.  

What can you do? Contact your members of congress and ask them to vote on NO on both of these bills. Here’s an easy link you can use to email your members of congress at democracy.io #KeepWolvesListed! And out of the hands of states, like Wisconsin for one, that sanctions wolf-hounding! 

Below I’ve included some history of Wisconsin’s wild wolf for you to read.  

It was 1978, and there had been no resident timber wolves in Wisconsin for twenty years. Still, packs were active in neighboring Minnesota, and there was the occasional rumor from Wisconsin’s northwestern counties of wolf sign or sightings. Had wolves returned on their own to Wisconsin? Richard Thiel, then a college student with a passion for wolves, was determined to find out.

    Thus begins Keepers of the Wolves, Thiel’s tale of his ten years at the center of efforts to track and protect the recovery of wolves in Northern Wisconsin. From his early efforts as a student enthusiast to his departure in 1989 from the post of wolf biologist for the Department of Natural Resources, Thiel conveys the wonder, frustrations, humor, and everyday hard work of field biologists, as well as the politics and public relations pitfalls that so often accompany their profession.

    We share in the excitement as Thiel and his colleagues find wolf tracks in the snow, howl in the forest night and are answered back, learn to safely trap wolves to attach radio collars, and track the packs’ ranges by air from a cramped Piper Cub. We follow the stories of individual wolves and their packs as pups are born and die, wolves are shot by accident and by intent, ravages of canine parvovirus and hard winters take their toll, and young adults move on to new ranges. Believing he had left his beloved wolves behind, Thiel takes a new job as an environmental educator in central Wisconsin, but soon wolves follow. By 1999, there were an estimated 200 timber wolves in 54 packs in Wisconsin.

This is a sequel to Dick Thiel’s 1994 book, The Timber Wolf in Wisconsin: The Death and Life of a Majestic Predator. That book traced the wolf’s history in Wisconsin, its near extinction, and the initial efforts to reestablish it in our state. Thiel’s new book looks at how successful that program has been. Available on Amazon

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Featured image of wolves by John E Marriott 

Graphic by WODCW

Please join us in Madison during Wisconsin’s Wolf Awareness Week on October 18th to celebrate the wolf. It’s important that we fill the theatre to send a clear message to politicians that we support our Wisconsin wild wolf!  I look forward to meeting you! 

In celebration of Wisconsin Wolf Awareness Week: A Wisconsin Premiere of “Gray Area: Wolves of the Southwest” screens in Madison.  Tickets: $10.00 Advance/$12.00 Day Of Show Advance tickets only available on-line at http://www.barrymorelive.com and by phone at (608) 241-8633, with $1.00 convenience charge click HERE for details