We began production one year ago, and now we are in post-production. We hired an editor to cut the footage into a story—a Wisconsin Story Mired in Political Intrigue. People & Wolves ended where we began at a wolf education and conservation workshop in August 2023.
Once we have a story approved by all producers and advisors and a trailer, the following steps will be hitting the film festival circuit! In the meantime, you can still support the film through a tax-deductible donation through our fiscal sponsor, http://www.filmnorth.org.
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.
Over the last year, People & Wolves gathered interviews from wildlife biologists, Ojibwe Tribal elders and members, an award-winning outdoor writer & hunter, livestock farmers, and wolf education and conservation DNR staff.
People & Wolves
A Wisconsin Story Mired in Political Intrigue.
The film tells the story of Wisconsin’s gray wolves, the controversies surrounding them, and how people learn to coexist as these native predators are again fulfilling their ecological role after returning to the state about 45 years ago.
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 would 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. 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 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 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 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 back on the ESA on February 18, 2022. Though gray wolves have numerically recovered in Wisconsin, the future of wolf management remains in limbo in the state.
MEET THE FILMMAKERS
Rachel Tilseth – Producer & Director
Rachel Tilseth is an art educator, freelance writer, filmmaker, and DNR volunteer Winter Wolf Tracker. She has a Bachelor of Science in Art Education in 1992 from UW-Stout, graduating with cum laude honors. Rachel’s first teaching job was on Pine Ridge Reservation in Kyle, South Dakota. Rachel believes an art education helps students to become better consumers. Rachel is a fine artist who emphasizes watercolor and oil painting. Rachel brings her knowledge of design principles to her work as a documentary film director.
Since high school, Rachel has been an environmentalist and participated in the first Earth Day in 1971. In the 1990s, she participated in the sulfate mines protests alongside activists John Trudell and Walter Bresette at the Protect The Earth Festival near Hayward, Wisconsin. In 1991, on a howl survey in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Rachel met Wisconsin’s Wolf Recovery Program Head Wolf Biologist, Adrian Wydeven. Seven years later, she 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. As the film’s producer, Rachel brings her knowledge of Wisconsin’s wolves & the politics surrounding them.
Manish Bhatt – Associate Producer
Manish Bhatt is a conservationist, writer, lawyer, and education leader. He holds a Bachelors of Arts magna cum laude from George Washington University, a Juris Doctor magna cum laude from St. Thomas University School of Law, and a LL.M. from Georgetown University Law Center.
Having grown up in a rural New York Catskill Mountains community, Manish is committed to preserving wild spaces and wildlife. As an officer and Judge Advocate in the United States Coast Guard, Manish deployed in support of cleanup efforts following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and led section 7 consultations with federal agency partners under the Endangered Species Act. He also worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency and State Historic Preservation Officers to ensure compliance with marine environmental laws and regulations. Manish has served as a teacher and Head of School and believes in experiential and outdoor education. As a school leader, he worked closely with fundraising partners and grant providers to ensure student success and curricular development.
Manish is a feature and investigative writer for the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin Films. To each article, he brings deep curiosity and commitment to objectivity. As a lifelong learner, Manish seeks data and trend analysis as a part of his reporting, in addition to interviewing experts in wolf biology. Manish has co-hosted, alongside Rachel Tilselth, WORT Radio’s Access Hour to share wolf science and information with the listening audience.
Michael Waasegiizhig Price – Producer
Michael Waasegiizhig Price is the Consulting producer Advisor of the Ojibwe cultural advisor in the film (People & Wolves). He is the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Specialist at the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission headquartered in Odanah, WI. He is Anishinaabe and an enrolled member of Wikwemikong First Nations, Canada. His role as TEK Specialist involves integrating Anishinaabe language, cultural perspectives, and ceremony into research methods and resource management to make science more culturally relevant. Michael received his Master of Science in Forestry from the University of Montana and a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. He also received his Certificate of Ojibwe Language Instruction from Bemidji State University.
Science Advisor – Adrian Wydeven
Adrian Wydeven grew up in northeast Wisconsin and has a BS in biology and wildlife management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (1976), and an MS in wildlife ecology from Iowa State University (1979). His master’s research was on elk’s ecology and food habitat in the Wind Cave National Park, SD. He worked as a wildlife manager in Missouri and Wisconsin from 1980-1990. Adrian headed up Wisconsin’s state gray wolf recovery and conservation program from 1990 through 2013 while 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 actively participating in wolf surveys and conservation through the Timber Wolf Alliance and Wisconsin Green Fire.