A Wisconsin Story “Wolves Mired in Political Intrigue” with Dr. Jane Goodall, Adrian Wydeven, Marvin Defoe and Peter David. A Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin Film, in Association with BC Cinematics. Director Rachel Tilseth, Producer Manish Bhatt and Cinematographer Benjamin Coffey.
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.
Photo taken in Northern Wisconsin at the turn of the 20th Century
Admittedly, I am new to Wisconsin’s wolf management plan process so to write this I set out to do in-depth research and reporting. After over twenty-four hours of watching the Wolf Management Plan Committee (WMPC) meetings, more than ten hours of reading the past plan, its update and articles, and several more hours discussing the future of wolves in Wisconsin, I certainly expected to have a clear sense of what will happen next. The truth is, I learned a lot and realized how little I could predict.
As has been reported in this publication (and elsewhere), wolves were eliminated from Wisconsin and much of the lower-48 by the mid-20th century. Gray wolf populations continued in Minnesota and on Isle Royale (Michigan). These holdouts to extirpation began extending their territory and reemerged in Wisconsin by the mid-1970s. In 1989, the state began work on a state recovery plan with the the goal of upgrading the status of the wolf from endangered to threatened. By 1999, the year of the first statewide Wolf Management Plan, Wisconsin had a population of more than 190 wolves and the state set out to manage the wolf to eventually delist the species from state and federal protection all together. Wisconsin updated the 1999 plan in 2007. The state attempted to draft a new plan between 2013 and 2015, but did not finish the job. The 1999 plan listed fourteen specific areas of wolf management strategies: 1. Wolf management zones, 2. Population monitoring and management, 3. Wolf health monitoring, 4. Habitat management, 5. Wolf depredation management, 6. Wolf education programs, 7. Law enforcement, 8. Inter-Agency cooperation and coordination, 9. Program guidance and oversight, 10. Volunteer programs, 11. Wolf research needs, 12. Wolf-Dog hybrids and captive wolves, 13. Wolf specimen management, and 14. Ecotourism.
Prior to the 2013-2015 attempt to revisit the Wolf Management Plan, the state often engaged with a state scientific committee. However, the 2021-2022 plan is the first significant work toward a new plan since efforts were abandoned in 2015. When I learned this, I knew an update to the 1999 Wolf Management Plan would be extremely difficult, and all of this is occurring in the shadow of the February 2021 wolf hunt and the return of the wolf to federal protection in February 2022.
Before I sat down to watch the four meetings of the WPMC, I asked myself, what has changed between 1999 and 2022? The answer was not hard to find – the wolf population. What was a number under 200 in 1999 is now a population of more than 1,000 animals in the state. Gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest also experienced increases in population sizes. In my opinion, the gray wolf recovery is a conservation success story but now the question facing Wisconsin is how to successfully coexist with a more stable population of apex predators?
The WMPC Process
To help answer this question, the DNR assembled the WMPC, a diverse group of stakeholders and Tribal representatives to meet four times between July and October 2021. The DNR tasked this group with providing input for the latest installment of the Wolf Management Plan.
The meetings of the WMPC were facilitated by a third party, nongovernmental, professional with the help of the DNR’s large carnivore specialist, Randy Johnson. I took the hiring of an outside facilitator to be both prudent, given the diverse perspectives of the WMPC members, and also a signal of the value of public input. Throughout the course of four meetings (including work prior to each meeting directed by the faciltator) the members of the WMPC assembled 138 individual pieces of input for the DNR. The input was then organized by the facilitator and the DNR, with the consent of the WMPC members, into groups of related input, known as nutshells.
There was no expectation that the group would reach a consensus on any recommendation, though I was intrigued by the level of general support for a number of key issues, including “[m]aking sure wolves remain in Wisconsin” (input 112). There was broad support for protecting livestock from wolf depredation and it will be interesting to see how the DNR handles the issue of payments for livestock loss. Unsurprisingly, no consensus was reached regarding wolf hunting, but the group seemed to agree, generally, that it would be important to develop strategies for effective coexistence between wolves and humans.
“There was no expectation that the group would reach a consensus on any recommendation, though I was intrigued by the level of general support for a number of key issues, including “[m]aking sure wolves remain in Wisconsin” (input 112).”
Two significant areas which received some of the most attention and diverse perspectives were (1) the wolf count, and (2) what should the population objective be for wolves in Wisconsin.
Gray Wolf in Jackson County. Credit: Snapshot Wisconsin
The Wolf Count
Several stakeholder groups indicated a distrust of the overall wolf count in Wisconsin, arguing the number wolves in the state is higher than the DNR indicates. In my opinion, this is a nuanced argument. To some, more wolves means less hunting opportunities for humans. Reduced opportunities could mean fewer sales of hunting licenses – which could decrease funding for the DNR and the hunting economy – a staple of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. In practice, however, 2020 saw a 12% increase in deer hunters compared to 2019 while 2021 showed a slight decrease from the 2020 numbers (per the 9- day gun hunt tallies).
For over forty years, the DNR used territory mapping to establish a minimum count of wolves in the state. This method employed ground tracking, aerial observation and the location of collared wolves to establish a map of pack territory and estimate pack size. The combined data established the minimum population of wolves in the state. This method worked well when the wolf population was smaller; however, as the number of wolves grew, the DNR needed a new way to estimate the number of animals. Beginning in 2018, the agency incorporated scaled occupancy modeling alongside territory mapping. The DNR compared the data gathered from the two methods and determined that the minimum count data using territory mapping was within the scaled occupancy model population. Per the DNR, occupancy modeling is less subjective and accounts for wolves that are present in an area but undetected. Due to the confidence in occupancy modeling, the DNR will no longer conduct a minimum count.
What should the population be?
What the wolf population should be in Wisconsin was an area of disagreement amongst the stakeholders. One camp perferred a defined number – invariably, the goal of 350 wolves as established in 1999. Other groups preferred to not define a specific number but achieve a wolf population that was healthy and sustainable through outcome based objectives. This method only establishes a minimum threshold below which the wolf population should not fall. Should the DNR move in this direction, it will be interesting to see which objectives are selected for consideration and why.
“Our job is to sharpen our tools and make them cut the right way… [T]he sole measure of our success is the effect which they have on the forest.” - Aldo Leopold
Overall the WMPC process was fascinating to witness and I am grateful for the work of each member. The importance of public input and citizen involvement in the decision-making that impacts our wild spaces and wildlife was on full display. The DNR, the facilitator, and the members of the WMPC spent many hours debating and engaging in critically important questions of wolf sustainability and ecological health. Given the goal was to provide input to the DNR, I believe the agency is the recipient of diverse views that represent many of the constituencies in the state. How the DNR uses this input will be something that we continue to cover here.
WORT Radio‘ Access Hour Presents:
Rachel Tilseth And Wolves Of Wisconsin
Mon April 4 @ 7:00 Pm–8:00 Pm
Rachel Tilseth returns with special guests Adrian Wydeven and Peter David for another informative discussion regarding the new WDNR 2022 Wolf Management Plan that will be presented to the public for review. Wort Radio Access Hour listeners are encouraged to call in with concerns or questions.http://www.wortfm.org
The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (NY) was famous for saying that “everyone is entitled to [their] own opinion, but not [their] own facts.” These words are as important today as they were the first time the Senator uttered them.
Americans’ trust in major institutions is declining. Gallup released findings showing that trust in the media was at its second lowest point since the analytics company began yearly polling around this issue. The Pew Research Center published a video that paralleled the Gallup data but added that the general distrust of media is tempered by trust in particular news sources – highlighting the importance of personal connection to positive attitudes towards news outlets.
In the America of today everything is politicized. From masks and vaccines to wolves on the landscape – it is all too common for various sides to take zero sum positions. Questioning the integrity of others and undermining trust and confidence in objective science-based decision-making is far too common in the U.S. and acts to divide us into separate groups where we tend to favor those that think like we do. As Mike Brooks, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today:
“If we can easily become judgmental and hateful of outgroup members based on random, fabricated, and trivial distinctions, just imagine how strong such feelings can be when they are based on more profound or emotionally-laden distinctions…
A 2021 article published in FACETS, a multidisciplinary open access science journal, highlights how misinformation and polarization harm conservation efforts. The authors write:
…[H]unting, animal welfare and conservation organizations may not share the same ethical, instrumental or utilitarian values toward wildlife, yet all of these groups advocate for better conservation outcomes for wildlife…[w]hen these groups are pitted against one another over a subset of values (e.g., consumptive use of wildlife; evidence vs. anecdote; science vs. emotion), it generates conflict and weakens their collective ability to affect change on commonly shared values (e.g., the persistence of wildlife populations)…
There is, of course, a different path but it requires that we, collectively and apolitically, expect the fair and objective dissemination of facts from those that we entrust with our attention. Spin and opposition research may be fair chase in politics but it should not be so on issues of wild spaces and wildlife.
Rachel Tilseth, the founder of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, has written about the value of empathy. I echo what she has written and add my personal view that empathy for those that disagree is a virtue. Rather than assemble a dossier of cherry-picked facts let us build a table together and construct seats for those with diverse opinions. Let us break bread, enjoy coffee, share in the pleasantries of life – and yes, have open, honest, and real discussions about our planet and our place within it. I am not perfect but I am committed to this task. I am passionate about gray wolves and their place within our ecosystem and I believe in the science that I have read. However, I have not read all of the science there is to consume – but I am committed to growing and learning. My worldview may be different from that of others but I invite a respectful and empathetic conversation.
“[H]unting, animal welfare and conservation organizations may not share the same ethical, instrumental or utilitarian values toward wildlife, yet all of these groups advocate for better conservation outcomes for wildlife”
Too often it seems that those with influence yield it without regard to the long-game or with the idea that differing groups may actually have shared goals. No side is immune from this and we can all point to examples of irresponsible advocacy or politicking that, objectively, should not have been shared. Of course, there are exceptions, but I have to believe – perhaps I want to believe – that our shared goals can be a uniting force. A pithy soundbite may be great for clicks but it is likely not productive. As it relates to the gray wolf, questions of recovery goals, recovery range, management and environmental impact are too important to be debated in 280 characters or less, through a narrow-minded video or a one-sided podcast interview.
The truth matters and if we care about our wild spaces and wildlife we will not settle for the ping pong match of misinformation and polarization that is all too accepted today. It is easy to source opinions that we agree with but let us pledge to engage with those with whom we disagree and see what common ground we can forge.
A wolf walks over to a vacated white-tailed deer bed and gently blows on it. This causes all the particles to flow up into his/hers highly tuned olfactory system (the nose). “Ah ha, says the wolf,” the deer tick’s blood is full of pus from a tooth infection. The deer tick had feasted on the white-tailed deer’s blood the night before. The deer tick’s blood now reveals a sick (unhealthy) animal. This shows how the gray wolf keeps the white-tailed deer herds healthy. This is nature’s design, original, and most certainly not man made. There’s-no-big-bad-wolf-here…only politicians with agendas…
Photo of wolf belongs to owner. Graphic design by WODCW
Let’s save the Gray wolf because he/she saves us (human-kind) in the end. In the past, less than a hundred years ago, vast herds roamed throughout the planet. The vast herds were wiped out by trophy hunting & human encroachment, and now live in small pockets of wilderness surrounded by human settlements. In these small pockets animals are forced to share habitats, and just think about the consequences of different kinds of ticks eating & spreading disease all on the same animals; Animals that are isolated in pockets of wilderness surrounded by human settlements.
Federal epidemiologists also have identified 11 other tick-borne diseases that you and your family can catch:
• Anaplasmosis, caused by bacteria, can be fatal in about 1% of cases, even in previously healthy people.
• Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and is treatable. The tick that transmits it is about the size of a poppy seed.
• Colorado tick fever is a viral infection transmitted from the bite of an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick, which lives in the western United States and Canada in areas 4,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. This disease has no treatment.
• Ehrlichiosis, caused by bacteria, appears with flu-like symptoms. It is treatable has been fatal in about 2% of cases.
• Powassan disease, which comes from a virus, has no specific treatment for the virus. Although only 75 cases have been reported in the past decade, it can develop into encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, or meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord.
• Q fever comes from a bacteria that naturally infects some animals such as goats, sheep and cattle, so ticks that feed on an infected animal can transmit the disease. Only about half the people who get Q fever will have symptoms, but those people can develop pneumonia or hepatitis.
• Rocky Mountain spotted fever, caused by bacteria, can be transmitted via at least two types of dog ticks and Rocky Mountain wood ticks. The disease can be severe or even fatal if not treated within the first few days of symptoms that include headache, fever and often but not always a pink, non-itchy rash that starts on wrists, arms and ankles.
• Southern tick-associated rash illness has an unknown cause, but researchers know that lone star ticks transmit this disease that can act like Lyme disease but isn’t caused by Lyme’s bacteria. An antibiotic can treat the symptoms.
• Tick-borne relapsing fever, a bacterial infection, also can be transmitted via lice. The rare infection is usually linked to sleeping in rustic rodent-infested cabins in mountainous areas, but if not treated victims can face several cycles of three days of 103-degree fevers, headaches and muscle aches and a week without.
• Tick paralysis, thought to be caused by a toxin in tick saliva, is rare but can paralyze a victim and is often confused with Guillain-Barre syndrome or botulism. Luckily, within 24 hours of removing the tick, the paralysis typically subsides.
• Tularemia first infects rabbits and rodents, and the ticks that bite them infect humans. One telltale sign of infection is often, but not always, an ulcer on the skin where the bacteria entered the body; lymph nodes also become infected. USA Today 2017
The planet needs Canis lupus (Gray wolf) and other large carnivores. Large carnivores can detect diseased and weak animals.
Dumping cattle carcasses is illegal in Michigan and Wisconsin. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that leaving carcasses in the woods, especially in wolf range, will attract wild carnivores. It’s just plain and simple common sense practice to dispose of livestock properly. Properly disposing of dead livestock also helps prevent the spread of diseases.
It can also be a lesson well learned as in the following story told to me a couple years ago by a woman living in wolf range. I was talking with a woman that lives in the country with a resident wolf pack nearby. I asked her if she had seen any signs of them lately, and she said she hasn’t seen them, but knows they are nearby. Then, she told me her tragic story. They had two dogs, one young and one older, and recently lost the older dog because of a mistake they made. She told me that they dumped their food scraps in a pit in the woods down behind their house; That one day she came out to the garage to find the young dog cowering in the corner. Then, she heard the older dog let out a screech from the pit out behind the house. She ran to the pit, looked down into the woods, and there was no sight of the older dog. They looked but never found a trace of him. They did find wolf tracks though. I asked them if they reported the incident to the DNR and she said no because it was their fault. She said they stopped dumping food scraps in the pit in the woods behind their house. They understand their mistake and tragically too late for their older dog. They live in wolf range and are also farmers. They also respect wolves and understand their place in the ecosystem.
Recently…Research In Upper Peninsula Finds Dumped Livestock Is Changing Predatory Behavior
A study led by Tyler Petroelje, a wildlife researcher and doctoral candidate at Mississippi State University, tracked the feeding behaviors of eight wolves from two packs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This research was part of a broader predator-prey study that investigated a variety of factors that affect deer populations in the region. As reported by Great Lakes Echo, the study suggested that dumping cow carcasses alters wolf behavior.
In the North Woods of Wisconsin and Michigan, a wolf’s natural diet typically consists of deer and beaver, Petroelje explained. But he found that nearly one-third of the diet of the wolves studied consisted of cattle carcasses from dump sites on nearby farm
Disposing of livestock carcasses is an important part of animal agriculture. Wisconsin law says that carcasses must be properly disposed of within 24 hours from April through November and within 48 hours from December through March.
Rendering, burial, burning and landfilling have been the typical means of disposal, but these are becoming less and less practical. Burial and burning create biosecurity hazards and threats to water and air quality. Rendering remains the best choice to protect the environment, public health, and animal health, but it is becoming more expensive and less available.
Cattle carcasses in particular are becoming more difficult and expensive to send to rendering because of federal regulations. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates animal feed and pet foods, now prohibits using parts from cattle 30 months or older in any food for animals unless the spinal cord and brain are first removed.
We recommend composting carcasses to overcome these problems. Remember that composting is an active process.
Putting a carcass in the woods or on the back 40 to rot and/or be eaten by scavengers is not composting and:
• Risks disease transmission to your livestock and your neighbors’, and to wildlife.
• May contaminate water sources – including your well and your neighbors’ wells.
• Invites vermin and pests, including coyotes, that may transmit disease and prey on your livestock.
• Alienates neighbors and generally casts farmers in a bad light.
Advice for wining the war-on-wolves. There’s a culture of trolling, attention seekers, and the haters in the comment section on every wolf advocacy page. Those trolls can create a culture of angry rhetoric real fast. It’s my experience (been doing this since the year 2000) that anyone claiming to kill a wolf and use the “SSS” method more than likely are ALL talk. Probably have never even seen a wolf, and if they did would pee their pants in fear. Spending our time fighting these types is a real waste of time. It gets the wolf advocacy movement “nowhere” real fast. The aggressive approach simply doesn’t work.
“How can you stop yourself from yelling and shouting and accusing everyone of cruelty? The easy answer is that the aggressive approach simply doesn’t work.” ~Jane Goodall
We cannot create an atmosphere of compassion, respect & coexistence for wolves if we are fighting and arguing online with the small fish (trolls & attention seekers). Meanwhile, the politicians are enjoying the online show of angry rhetoric. It’s what politicians live for and use to keep the focus off the real issues.
Angry rhetoric on Facebook keeps the wolf advocacy movement polarized. There’s probably many people out there who would get involved, but won’t because of all the screamers, ranters, the trolls, and the likes of which are displayed within wolf advocacy sites. Let’s face facts that extremist’s voices are drowning out any and all intelligent conversation within the wolf advocacy movement.
Education and awareness are key components to winning the war on wolves.
Instead we must use scientific facts and real life experiences working with wolves as our best weapon to win the war on wolves. We must rise above the angry rhetoric, after all we have the moral-high-ground because trophy hunts are about power not conservation. Wolves are a part of Wisconsin’s wild legacy.
“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” ~Plato
We must carry the banner forward in compassion for both humans and wolves and wildlife in order to win the war on wolves being waged by special interests groups and unscrupulous politicians.
Man’s destructive track record on wildlife, over the last ten thousand years, makes me think humans are not essential for the survival of the planet. Humans have caused the extinction of thousands of essential sentient-beings. Simply put, wolves are free sentient-beings. I’m not going to measure their right to exist compared to “if they help humans or not.” Why do humans put less value on the lives of animals living in the wild? Wolves are highly social & intelligent sentient-beings, and have the right to live wild & free. Mankind, as a species, must change their way of thinking-from human domination of the planet to- peacefully coexistence with sentient-beings that share our world.
Join the campaign to end “Wolf Hounding” in Wisconsin.
The following is a wolf hounding fact sheet:
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? WODCW’s Wolf Hounding Fact Sheet
“There has never been a more important time for the people of Wisconsin to show they are not going to give in to a small group of people that want to torture animals for fun under the guise of “sport.” ~Rachel Tilseth
Wolf recovery in Wisconsin began in the late 1970s, and after almost forty years, is still ruled by aggressive hunting conservation policies of; kill-them-to-conserve-them.
“Increasing human tolerance of large carnivores may be the best way to save these species from extinction,” said co-researcher William Ripple…Also, more large protected areas are urgently needed for large carnivore conservation.”
Just how bad is it?
Six of the world’s large carnivores have lost more than 90% of their historic range, according to a study, BBC News. The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, was carried out by Christopher Wolf and William Ripple of Oregon State University. Range Contractions of the World’s Large Carnivores.
The researchers say re-wilding programmes will be most successful in regions with low human population density, little livestock, and limited agriculture. Additionally, regions with large networks of protected areas and favourable human attitudes toward carnivores are better suited for such schemes.”Increasing human tolerance of large carnivores may be the best way to save these species from extinction,” said co-researcher William Ripple.
“Also, more large protected areas are urgently needed for large carnivore conservation.”
When policy is favourable, carnivores may naturally return to parts of their historic ranges. BBC News
Wisconsin’s political-atmosphere regarding favourable policy is lacking; even down-right-hostile in its management of wolves.
In Wisconsin, there are 925 wild wolves sharing the landscape with people in the northern & central forest areas. Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association (WBA) continues to push for a trophy hunting of wolves. In 2015 WBA worked at Loosening regulations for bear hunters using dogs in pursuit of bear. Because of that change it’s impossible to know; just how many dogs in pursuit of bear are running through the woods.
During the 2016 Wisconsin bear hunting season 37 hunting dogs were lost in the pursuit of bear. In 2017 $99, 400.00 was paid for hounds killed in pursuit of bear, 2016 training & Hunting season, according to the Wisconsin annual wolf depredations payout summary. Did the Wisconsin wolf depredation program reimburse bear hunters who knowingly ran their hunting dogs through WDNR wolf caution areas?
Delisting of Wisconsin’s wild wolf means certain death for this iconic predator, as Wisconsin is the only state that allows hunters to use unleashed packs of dogs to hunt wolves. Wolf hounding fact sheet.
Conservation of large carnivores over the last century has been one of: kill-them-to-conserve ethic. An example of this conservation policy Wisconsin law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 169; “If the wolf is not listed on the federal endangered list and is not listed on the state endangered list, the department shall allow the hunting and trapping of wolves and shall regulate such hunting and trapping as provided in this section and shall implement a wolf management plan. In regulating wolf hunting and trapping, the department may limit the number of wolf hunters and trappers and the number of wolves that may be taken by issuing wolf harvesting licenses.”
Action Alert! Anti-Wolf Riders in House Bill Funding Dept of Interior. We need to make our voices heard and let our politicians know that this bill, along with these anti-wolf riders, is not acceptable. Coexistence, not killing, should be the goal of wolf recovery. Our wolves deserve a better fate than the death sentences our legislators are proposing.
Wisconsin’s large carnivores are being aggressively managed through hunting policies that are impacting black bears. In a research paper “Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore” Human food subsidies make up more than 40% of the diet of bears in northern Wisconsin. This consumption of human food subsidies, baiting, is negatively impacting the black bear population in Wisconsin. An estimated four million gallons of bait is dropped in Wisconsin’s forests by bear hunters starting in April through mid September.
The researchers found that: “Female consumption of high caloric food subsidies can increase fecundity (the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertility), and can train cubs to seek bear baits. Long-term supplementation can increase a population above its ecological carrying capacity. Further, Wisconsin, humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting, but also through bottom-up forces by subsidizing the food base. Researcers’ findings emphasize the need to understand what effects conservation and management strategies that feature human subsidies can have on wildlife, particularly how they alter behavior, population sizes, and demographic parameters.”
Wisconsin, humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting…
Is it possible to move conservation policy from a killing to conserve to a compassionate ethic? There’s a movement towards compassionate conservation that I hope Wisconsin can adopt. Compassionate conservation policy developed by Born Free Foundation “Guiding principles; First, do no harm as a commitment to prioritising non-invasive approaches in conservation research and practice, and an acknowledgement that invasive interventions may harm individuals, populations, and ecosystems. Individuals matter in conservation research and practice, not merely as units of species and populations, and should be treated with compassion both in the wild and in captivity Valuing all wildlife as worthy of conservation effort, whether native or introduced, whether common or rare, and regardless of perceived usefulness to humans.” 2017 Compassionate Conservation Convention is Being held in Sydney, Australia on November 20-24, 2017.
Wolf recovery in Wisconsin began in the late 1970s, and after almost forty years, is still ruled by aggressive hunting conservation policies of; kill-them-to-conserve-them. Isn’t it time for Wisconsin’s wolf management plan to move forward into a new age; that supports increasing human tolerance of large carnivores.
Trophic Cascades are powerful indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems. Trophic cascades occur when predators limit the density and/or behavior of their prey and thereby enhance survival of the next lower trophic level.
Featured image from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Source: Journal Sentinel by Mary Falk , February 15, 2017
We sure don’t need our state’s U.S. senators signing off on bills allowing wolves to be indiscriminately killed.
I raise cattle, sheep and goats on 200 acres in Burnett County, where my family runs a small cheese plant. Since our farm connects to a wildlife corridor, our land is host to a multitude of wildlife which, in turn, attracts various predators including coyotes, plenty of bears, an odd cougar and gray wolves. Compared to the coyotes and bears, the wolves are pretty rare.
Senators Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson recently joined other lawmakers in introducing legislation to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming. This is a short-sighted proposal that would open the door to trophy hunting and trapping of gray wolves, and it shouldn’t be allowed to move forward.
Leaving aside for a moment how much has been invested into preventing wolves from vanishing altogether, this proposal has the potential to create big headaches for small farmers. The consequences of allowing wolf hunts in my neck of the woods are predictable: It’s going to disrupt the delicate balance we’ve spent years working out to keep predators at bay.
We’re a hunting family, but in 30 years, we’ve never had to shoot a predator to defend our livestock. I give all the credit to my livestock guardian dogs. Last year, for example, as my son was bow hunting he watched a wolf trot through our property and head toward our farm. He then heard our dogs go ballistic, barking up a storm as they ran the wolf off the property. Because of the defense put up by our livestock guard dogs, our livestock were never endangered.
Once predators such as wolves and coyotes become accustomed to the barriers set down by guard dogs, they will train their pups to respect those same boundaries. A pack that respects the guard dog boundaries also helps to keep out other packs by utilizing similar territorial techniques that dogs use.
Sanction the non-prescription killing of wolves, however, and you’re bound to upset this balance and trigger more problems. If hunters take aim at wolves in one place, the wolves will just flee to new territory, possibly catching farmers off guard with unwanted visitors they’ve never before had to confront.
I’ve received quite a few phone calls from farmers in search of guard dogs in central Minnesota, who were being visited by wolves and had not seen them previous to the last sanctioned wolf hunt.
Meanwhile, suppressing wolves — which are already listed as federally endangered because they’re so rare — can bring a host of unforeseen consequences. For instance, scientists tell us that a healthy wolf population can be important to keep populations of wild deer in check. Deer overpopulation can introduce unwanted pests, weeds, disease and overgrazing on natural flora and farm crops.
There are many available tools for protecting livestock from predators. Some farmers utilize permanent electric fencing, portable fencing or night penning to safeguard herds when it isn’t possible to keep watch over them. All of these nonlethal options for dealing with predators can be employed without disrupting the natural balance.
We sure don’t need our state’s U.S. senators signing off on bills allowing wolves to be indiscriminately killed. I hope that Baldwin and Johnson will rethink their position on this short-sighted legislation.
Mary Falk is co-owner of LoveTree Farmstead Cheese in Grantsburg.
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Top predators like wolves, bears, lions and tigers have declined dramatically around the world over the past century. One major driver of these declines is retaliatory killing by people following predator attacks on domestic livestock. This lethal approach to predator management is increasingly controversial not only because of ethical concerns, but also the role predators can play in healthy ecosystems. A new UC Berkeley study shows that many non-lethal methods of predator control can be highly effective in protecting livestock from predators and in turn, saving predators from people.
A tiger drags a cow at Jennie Miller’s study site in India
The Berkeley study examined 66 published, peer-reviewed research papers that measured how four categories of lethal and non-lethal mitigation techniques — preventive livestock husbandry, predator deterrents, predator removal, and indirect management of land or wild prey — influenced attacks on livestock. The most consistently effective tools (showing 70 percent or greater effectiveness in at least two studies) were guard dogs, electric fencing, electrified fladry (electric fence with hanging colored flags), light and sound devices, shock collar, and removal of predators, which includes both killing and translocation to other places.
“Livestock owners spend immense resources on stopping carnivore attacks but may never know whether the costs were truly worthwhile,” said Jennie Miller, a researcher at Panthera who will become a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley in the Department of Environmental, Science, Policy and Management in January. “If livestock owners can’t choose the most efficient tool for handling their problem predator and protecting their livelihood, how can we possibly expect them to peaceably coexist with large carnivores in their backyards?”
The study was published December 13 in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.
Large carnivores are critical to protect because, as top predators, they can stabilize entire ecosystems. Despite their importance, 77 percent of the 31 largest terrestrial carnivores are declining in population, with 61 percent listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. The global decline in large carnivores is due to many factors, including human-carnivore conflict that often stems from the need to stop carnivores from attacking livestock. At the same time, chronic conflict with large carnivores can threaten agricultural systems, which must be viable to support rural livelihoods and economies.
Currently there is little consensus on which management techniques are most useful and under what circumstances, or on the associated tradeoffs between duration and effectiveness level. That’s partly because so few studies have quantitatively measured the effects of some promising methods. For example, human guards and killing predators — both of which involve high financial and time costs and implications for human and animal well-being — have been quantitatively tested by just one study each.
A night enclosure for livestock at Miller’s study site in India
A night enclosure for livestock at Miller’s study site in India. (Photo by Jennie Miller)
The new study found that preventive husbandry and deterrents were most effective in reducing livestock losses. These methods, however, showed wide variability due to a suite of external factors, such as how well equipment was installed and maintained. Husbandry methods ranged between 42 percent and 100 percent effective, while deterrents ranged anywhere from highly effective to wholly ineffective.
The wide variability could also be due to an apparent tradeoff between the effectiveness of protective methods and the length of time a given tool remains effective. Deterrents, therefore, are likely most effective when implemented during brief times of high carnivore risk, such as the calving or lambing season, when short-term protection of livestock would save the most animals from attacks.
“This paper shows that if we step back and take a broader look, we can derive some working principles to help guide more effective control of livestock depredation and minimize the need for lethal control of these iconic animals,” said co-author Oswald Schmitz, Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Lethal predator control has received particularly little study and monitoring, the study’s authors pointed out.
“In spite of lethal control being very widely used, it really hasn’t been studied well enough to make scientific comparisons with other, non-lethal methods, which is surprising,” said Arthur Middleton,an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and a study co-author.
As a result, the authors suggest the lethal management method should receive closer monitoring and more rigorous testing.
The study also identified many negative biases in studies of techniques to reduce livestock losses, including the lack of replication across carnivore species and geographic regions, a heavy focus on the Canidae family (wolves and coyotes) and on the United States, Europe and Africa, and a publication bias towards studies that reported positive results. To prevent these biases in future studies, the authors are recommending a review group and additional funding to support rigorous testing of methods, especially the usefulness of human guards and lethal control, since these techniques involve large financial and time costs and have detrimental impacts on human health and carnivore populations.
“Chronic conflict between large carnivores and livestock not only limits the long-term viability of many carnivore populations – it also carries economic and emotional costs for the livestock producers and others involved in these conflicts,” Middleton said. “All these are important to alleviate, no matter how long it takes.” Source