Wolf recovery is a never-ending story full of political intrigue. In the 24 years since becoming involved in Wisconsin’s wolf recovery, I’ve seen it all. When I became a volunteer Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Winter wolf tracker in the year 2000, there were just 66 wolf packs. I was assigned a wolf tracking block in Douglas County, Wisconsin. The gray wolf population flourished under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Several decades after Wisconsin began its wolf recovery program, I witnessed it disappear altogether. Wolf recovery went from zero to sixty, resulting in three consecutive wolf hunts, mandated by the conservative-controlled state legislature.
The most unfortunate aspect of this process was the loss of public education & input: the conservative party controlled wolf management. And, to top it off, anti-wolf fringe hunters also came to dominate politics. They pushed misinformation instead of science. They began campaigns full of political rhetoric designed to scare the public. The propaganda by anti-wolf politicians & fringe hunters claiming wolves are killing all the deer, and the people in the Northwoods don’t want them in their backyards. The same story continues today with many players that inhibit conversation because they have their agendas to follow.
For the most part, it’s interesting to add for public information that many are the same players from the past decade. The same party holds majority power, and refuses to hear any scientific evidence, just as before during the prior three wolf hunts. These same tactics led to the gray wolf being relisted. A Federal Judge ordered that endangered species protection be restored immediately in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan on December 19, 2014. Unfortunately, it isn’t one-sided. The politics are driven by both sides. You see when money enters any cause agendas become biased. Yes, biased. How else can they fill their coffers with donations? It’s the way of the non-profit world and it is a never-ending story. Both sides fuel the fires with their agendas because if the problem were to be solved then there’s no need to solicit donations. Extremists keep it going from both sides. Take for instance the recent August 11, 2021 meeting of the Natural Resources Board (NRB). The chair, Dr. Prehn (R), wants a wolf hunt so bad that he refuses to relinquish his seat to Governor Ever’s (D) appointee Sandy Naas and it’s made headlines all over the world.
At the NRB meeting, chair Prehn and four other board members went against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) scientific recommendations of a wolf quota of 130 and voted to up it to 300. They also voted that the DNR must get approval from the NRB if they change the 300 quota number. That move puts conservatives in the majority to control wolf hunting in November 2021. On the other side, you have well-meaning advocates pushing for science-based wolf management. Yet, are they scientists or advocacy organizations collecting money to fulfill their agendas? Just like the other side does. Like moths drawn to a flame, they sprang up out of nowhere during the first wolf hunts in 2011. And not a biologist among them because of social media they flourished. Ah, the age of misinformation spreading through these sites unchecked. Wolf recovery is a never-ending story, a political battlefield, charged with funds to keep it burning. There is no accountability as both sides gather followers in their camps. Yet there are those non-profits that remain true to their mission and remain unbiased in order to educate the public.
I want to tell this story because aside from the political agendas of extremists, there are those who have been working to inform the public, and these people have decades of experience in wolf education. Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & Messenger of Peace.
Adrian Wydeven headed up the state gray wolf recovery and conservation program for Wisconsin from 1990 through 2013, while also working with other rare mammals and wildlife. He retired from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 2015 after nearly 33 years. Adrian continues to be actively involved in wolf surveys and conservation through the Timber Wolf Alliance and Wisconsin Green Fire.
Marvin DeFoe is a contributing author of the Ma’iingan Relationship Plan and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He is an educator, teacher, birch bark canoe builder, and Red Cliff elder. He grew up in the Red Cliff community and is part of the sturgeon clan. Named Shingway Banase in Anishinaabe, he is passionate about the maintenance and revitalization of the Ojibwe language. Marvin is the past Vice Chair on the tribal council and has been the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for four years.
Peter David is a retired wildlife biologist with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, where he assisted GLIFWC’s member tribes in the implementation of their off-reservation, treaty-reserved rights. He received his education (bachelor’s and master’s in Wildlife Ecology) from UW-Madison, and from the tribal elders and members for whom he has worked for the last 35 years. At the Commission, he has had the opportunity to steward resources as varied as wild rice and wolves.
Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) Emeritus, has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals. She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars. Patricia has seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988, and is an Adjunct Professor in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching “The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships.” For fourteen years she dispensed advice about behavior problems, and information about animal behavior research, on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Calling All Pets, which was heard in over 110 cities around the country.
Tanya Eldred a biologist with the Great Lakes Indian Wildlife Commission and Amy Reske Mueller of the Sierra Club of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff, and many more interviews from people involved in the never-ending story of Wisconsin’s wolf recovery.
The film “People & Wolves” is happy to be a part of Film North. FilmNorth’s mission is to empower artists to tell their stories, launch and sustain successful careers, and advance The North as a leader in the national network of independent filmmakers. We achieve our mission by nurturing a vibrant, diverse community of film and media artists; providing education and resources at every stage of their careers; and celebrating their achievements.
The film tells the story of Wisconsin’s gray wolves, the controversies surrounding them, and how people are learning to coexist as these native predators are again fulfilling their ecological role after returning to the state about 45 years ago.
Teaser Produced by Rachel Tilseth
Gray wolves recolonized parts of Wisconsin in the 1970s after being killed off in the state in the 1950s and grew to a population of over 1000 wolves by 2020. Unfortunately, this conservation success story has become very controversial in the last decade. Federal and state endangered species acts have helped recover wolves in the state. Still, four attempts by the federal government to delist wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have resulted in court challenges returning wolves to the endangered list. After federal delisting in 2012, the Wisconsin legislature mandated that wolf hunts be required whenever gray wolves were off the ESA list.
The most recent delisting battle started in January 2021, leading to a court-ordered three-day controversial wolf hunt during the breeding season in February, and it went over the allotted quota, angering many Wisconsinites. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) began work on a new state Wolf Management Plan last completed in 1999. The DNR formed a committee of stakeholders, including the tribes. Ojibwe bands in Red Cliff and Bad River have their own, Ma’iingan (Wolf) Relationship Plans. The state must work with the tribes on wolf management, including wolf hunting seasons.
Political battles began over how to manage the next hunt in November 2021. The struggle between the DNR, its Natural Resources Board, and pro-wolf advocates ended with several lawsuits and one that yielded an injunction to stop the November 2021 wolf hunt. The Six Ojibwe tribes also sued and claimed the wolf hunt violated their treaty rights. A year after the controversial wolf hunt, a California judge ordered gray wolves in much of the lower 48 states on the ESA list on February 18, 2022. Though gray wolves have numerically recovered in Wisconsin, the future of wolf management remains in limbo in the state.
Rachel Tilseth Producer & Director of the film project is a retired art educator, freelance writer, and filmmaker. She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Art Education, 1992, from UW-Stout, graduating with cum laude honors. In 2000 became involved in Wisconsin’s Wolf Recovery Program. She became a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Volunteer Winter Wolf/Carnivore Tracker in the year 2000 and, as a result, learned about the lives of wild gray wolves. Manish N. Bhatt, Producer – Manish is an environmental lawyer and educator. With a career that has spanned the United States Armed Forces to secondary and higher education, Manish brings expertise in environmental law, policy, and fundraising in support of the film.