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
It certainly has been an up and down whirlwind of a week for news on gray wolves. From the disheartening reports out west where wildlife officials are killing members of Washington’s Smackout pack and the Harl Butte pack in Oregon, to the two encouraging news stories concerning Wisconsin wolves.
The first story affecting Wisconsin’s gray wolf was the Washington DC appellate court’s 3-0 decision to retain protection for gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. The court cited that the USFWS had not sufficiently considered how loss of historical territory would affect the predator’s recovery and how removing the Great Lakes population segment from the endangered list would affect wolves in other parts of the nation.
The second story affecting Wisconsin’s wolves was Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filing a criminal complaint citing state payments to hunters to compensate for hunting dogs killed or injured in clashes with wolves as evidence of violations. PEER has requested a criminal investigation for violation of the Endangered Species Act. PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco states, “Endangered species are legally protected from human activity which adversely affects the animals, not just physical injury but harm to habitat or breeding. Loosing packs of dogs on them absolutely constitutes an adverse impact.”
“Wisconsin encourages hunting practices that seem calculated to cause fatal conflicts with wolves,” ~Adam Carlesco, PEER
According to PEER, the WI DNR has not been authorized to give payments for hound depredations since 2014, but have been doing so in violation of Wisc. Stat. § 29.888 since then. This statute reads as follows:
“The department shall administer a wolf depredation program under which payments may be made to persons who apply for reimbursement for death or injury caused by wolves to livestock, to hunting dogs other than those being actively used in the hunting of wolves, and to pets and for management and control activities conducted by the department for the purpose of reducing such damage caused by wolves. The department may make payments for death or injury caused by wolves under this program only if the death or injury occurs during a period time when the wolf is not listed on the federal endangered list and is not listed on the state endangered list.”
“Wisconsin DNR does not pretend to manage bear hunting in any discernible fashion, nor do they even bother to monitor what is taking place.” ~Adam Carlesco, PEER
Rachel Tilseth, worked closely with PEER in gathering information for this criminal investigation. Rachel reached out to PEER a couple months ago requesting their help and stated that she was impressed at the amount of investigation, research, and digging that PEER did. Read her blog on this story here. WPR will be publishing more on this story. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Both of these stories are wonderful news for Wisconsin’s gray wolf, but this is no time to rest on our laurels; we must remain vigilant and continue advocating. US Senate bill S1514 is getting closer to coming to the Senate floor for a vote. This bill would permanently delist wolves in the Great Lakes states, and preclude any judicial review – no appeals period – taking away a fundamental bedrock of our democracy. Our wolves deserve better than this.
Sarcoptic mange is a highly contagious canine skin disease caused by mites that burrow into the skin causing infections, hair loss, severe irritation and an insatiable desire to scratch. The resulting hair loss and depressed vigor of an infected animal leaves them vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition and dehydration, which can eventually lead to death. Mange was introduced into the Northern Rockies in 1909 by state wildlife veterinarians in an attempt to help eradicate local wolf and coyote populations. Scientists believe the troublesome mite that causes the disease persisted among coyotes and foxes after wolves were exterminated. Since their reintroduction into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 1995-96, wolves appeared to be free of mange until 2002. As of March 2014, 2 of 8 known packs in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) have mange, mostly in the Northern Range, and the prevalence within a pack ranges from 25 to 60%.
On a hopeful note, in 2014 the Mollies pack suffered greatly from mange. The following year they had completely recovered, naturally and on their own, and today they are one of the healthiest packs in the Yellowstone. (Source)
Photograph by Leo Leckie About Leo Leckie
A life-long student of the natural world, I’ve been attending the dynamic classroom that is Yellowstone National Park year-round since 2010. My teachers and mentors are the myriad animate and inanimate species and forms who share their stories and insights daily. Research areas of specialization include Wolves, Badgers, Bears, Geography and Geology.
Source When Poland banned wolf hunting, numbers doubled. But now animal scientists fear that politicians could turn back the clockBy Alex Duval Smith Friday 8 January 2016
Robert Mysłajek stops dead. Between two paw prints on a muddy mountain track, the scientist finds what he is looking for. “Scats!’’ he enthuses. Wolf sightings are so rare that a flash of faeces marks a good day, even for a seasoned tracker.
But it is getting easier. There are now an estimated 1,500 wolves in Poland. The number has doubled in 15 years. Wolves are – along with the brown bear, the lynx and the wolverine – Europe’s last large predator carnivores. Conservationists from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are beating a path here to find out how the country has saved this protected species, slandered even in fairytales.
Bits of bone and hair protrude from the precious black faeces. “It ate a red deer,’’ says the University of Warsaw biologist. “In my lab, I can tell you all about this wolf – not only its diet, but its gender, sexual habits, age, state of health and family connections.’’
DNA tests have established that Polish wolves are travellers. “One wolf reached the Netherlands, where unfortunately it was hit by a car. They have a tremendous range. They need space. The average territory required by a Polish pack is 250 sq km (96 sq miles),’’ said Mysłajek
“Is there any prospect of our ever being able to reintroduce wolves to Scotland?’’ asks student Alex Entwisle, 23, on a field trip to southern Poland from his college near Chippenham, Wiltshire. The animal science students have spent the day observing scat and paw prints in the spruce-clad Beskidy mountains of the Polish Carpathians.
They are more used to discussing the red ants of the New Forest than the current hot topic among advocates of rewilding: whether to reintroduce wolves to the British Isles for the first time since the 18th century
As the guest of a British charity, the Wolves and Humans Foundation, Mysłajek toured the Scottish Highlands in September and took questions from villagers about the Polish experience. “The big difference between Scotland and Poland is that we eat pork. We do not have many sheep here.
“The similarity is that we have a lot of ungulates – 300,000 red deer and more than 800,000 roe deer. In Poland we also have a massive overpopulation of wild boar – about 200,000 – and these are ravaging farmers’ cereal crops. Here, wolves are part of the solution,’’ he says.
The scientist, who is a familiar face on Polish television, says wolves are exceptional animals that are capable of moving up to 30km (18 miles) during a single hunt. “The Beskidy pack’’ – the one that left us the scat – “is a strong unit, eight or nine individuals. This year we have recorded five cubs, two yearlings and two adults.
“We track them using motion-activated cameras in the forest, and by following their prints in the mud and snow. In each family group, only one pair reproduces, once a year. All pack members care for the young with solidarity and devotion.’’
Mysłajek, the son of a shepherd, is puzzled by wolves’ bad reputation. “Why does one speak of a ‘lone-wolf gunman’? Why did we have to have Little Red Riding Hood?’’ But that is about as dewy-eyed as he gets.
He is fascinated by these aloof canines who remained in the wild 33,000 years ago when others decided on a much more comfortable existence as domestic dogs.
Biologist Robert Mysłajek says snow is nature’s helper, making the detection of wolf tracks much easier for scientists.
Biologist Robert Mysłajek says snow is nature’s helper, making the detection of wolf tracks much easier for scientists. Photograph: Alex Duval Smith/the Observer
Wolves are not pooches. Mysłajek says only scientific arguments – the need to regenerate forests and control the ungulate population – can save Europe’s wild carnivores, especially the unpopular wolf. “Natural predators balance the eco-system. They keep herbivores in check, thus allowing trees to grow tall for birds to nest in.’’
Shoot the deer? “It is only a partial solution,’’ he says. “In a diverse environment you have the so-called ‘landscape of fear’, where herbivores no longer spend all day grazing on the tender riverside grass. They move away, as a precaution, to avoid being trapped by a predator. This gives the vegetation a chance.’’
The ban on wolf hunting in the western Carpathians came into force in 1995, and nationwide in Poland in 1998. There are now resident packs in virtually all the country’s major forests. The predators coexist with humans rather than being fenced off, as they are in African safari parks.
The Polish government pays compensation for livestock killed by wolves. Mysłajek advises farmers on erecting electric fences. He has helped revive the use of two deterrents that, for reasons no one quite understands, wolves find particularly scary: red bunting (hung around sheep pens) and the bark of the fluffy white Tatra mountain sheepdog.
The survival and mobility of Poland’s wolves has been helped by the country’s belated infrastructure development. In 1989, when the communists relinquished power, Poland had only one motorway. Major road projects – requiring wildlife impact studies – began after Poland joined the European Union in 2004. The country now has one of the highest densities in the world of overhead crossings and underpasses for wild animals.
Wolf scat in the Beskidy mountains. Photograph: Alex Duval Smith/the Observer
But attitudes have also changed. “For many years, hunting was cultural. In 1975 there were fewer than 100 wolves in Poland. Beginning in the 1950s, hunting wolves had been encouraged by the authorities. They paid a reward for killing a wolf worth a month’s salary. It was carnage.’’
Mysłajek says the improvement in Polish wolves’ survival chances has been considerable, but remains fragile. Packs are mobile across borders and hunting still goes on in neighbouring Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Slovakia.
He claims Poland’s new national-conservative government, elected in October, is hostile to wolves. “The environment minister, Jan Szyszko, makes no secret of being a hunter. There are 120,000 licensed hunters in Poland, and they are influential in parliament.
“The hunters claim wolves are a pest and that there are 4,000 of them in Poland, which is a spurious figure based on an unscientific count. This government is capable of turning back the clock. They will go for wolves before brown bears or lynx, just because they can.’’
Being a wolf advocate is no easy mission. “It is not as if you can argue to the politicians that wolves are a big tourist attraction. Most tourists want to see the animals, not the just the scat. Wolves stay away from humans. They have a tremendously sensitive sense of smell.’’
The 12 British animal sciences students leave the Polish Carpathians without a sighting; just smartphone photographs of paw prints and scat. Entwisle is convinced that Scotland will never be able to match Poland’s success.
Everyone knows the tale of little Red Riding Hood generally by the time they enter kindergarten; whether they have had the good fortune of someone reading it to them or they have read it themselves, everyone knows the perilous journey Little Red must make to her granny’s house where she confronts the wolf in her granny’s bed clothes. But few are aware of how such a story sets the precedent for fear of wolves later in life. You may scoff and raise a brow at this connection, but follow my train of logic for a bit, and you’ll see what I mean.
Where did the tale of little Red begin? Durham University anthropologist Jamie Tehrani states that “Little Red Riding Hood” likely branched off 1,000 years ago from an ancestral story that has its roots in the first century A.D” (Source). Tehrani uses a math model to trace the roots of the story, but what’s more, every culture on the earth appears to have some variant on the same tale. Those variants include gender, place, victim, and purpose of travel, but the one mainstay is the monster in the form of an animal, which is generally a tiger or wolf. Along come the Brothers Grimm and in their enthusiasm to scare the bejeebers out of kids, set in stone the wolf as the devouring, amoral beastie. Like most myths and fairy tales, the story is generally always a metaphor for something else. In the instance of Red Riding Hood, Tehrani further enlightens us:
The stories are really about how people aren’t always who they seem to be, which is a really important lesson in life. Even people that we think we can trust can actually be out to harm us. In fact, it’s precisely because we trust them that we are vulnerable to what their harmful intentions might be toward us (Source).
So, ultimately, what is this lesson telling us? By anthropomorphizing animals in our telling, we are plainly stating that all monsters are human. Those fears we own have been transferred on to a poor beast that has no concept of such subtleties of manipulation or deceit. And herein lies the rub: somewhere between childhood and adulthood, some folks forget that this particular story is a metaphor and simply remember that the wolf is bad–very, very bad. A similar occurance takes place within the telling of the story of Adam and Eve; in this story, the serpent or snake is bad/evil and instead of remembering the metaphor, people think, ah-ha! the snake should die for its terrible nature.
Although we like to believe we live in an enlightened time, many, many people will continue to hold to their superstitions and irrational fears. They will tell you that the wolf is dangerous, unpredictable, a threat to home and hearth, and should be eradicated. Sure, some wolf haters exist via incipient greed and will use their hoarding tendencies to persuade others that wolves are bad, but most begin on the laps of their parents listening to stories created for a far deeper purpose. These are the people who shut their ears to the science of food webs, trophic predators, and the result of human encroachment. These same people, who might be otherwise, good citizens, will fall away at the mention of scientific understanding and revert to a story told long ago by someone they trusted.
It’s time we all grow the hell up and leave childhood behind and behave like thinking adults. It’s time we take responsibility for our actions and realize that thinking involves honesty with ourselves and our environment. It’s time to stop making monsters out of wolves.
The Great Lakes wolf owes their continued protection to these organizations. In the next couple of blog posts I would like to highlight each organization mentioned above. I’ve already posted on the wonderful work that Humane Society of the U.S. had done on behalf of the Great Lakes wolf.
Born Free USA is a national nonprofit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the US and globally.
Born Free USA was one of the organization that filed suit to return the Great Lakes wolf back to the ESA, read on:
Victory for Wolves in the Great Lakes Region. In December, Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in D.C. ruled that the Department of the Interior’s decision to remove federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for gray wolves in the Great Lakes region was arbitrary and capricious. We have successfully restored ESA protection to gray wolves in the Great Lakes region: a huge win for endangered species conservation! Born Free USA proudly joined our colleagues at The Humane Society of the United States, Help Our Wolves Live, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment as plaintiffs in this case. You can read the entire ruling here.
Born Free USA’s History
The Born Free Foundation was initiated in England in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, the stars of the legendary film Born Free, along with their son Will. Having been deeply influenced by their time spent in Kenya, Bill and Virginia were inspired to act after the tragic and untimely death of Pole Pole, an elephant featured in the film An Elephant Called Slowly, who was sent to the London Zoo from the Government of Kenya after the making of the film.
In the subsequent two decades, Born Free has become an international force in wildlife conservation and animal protection, campaigning to save elephants, big cats, wolves, dolphins, bears, primates, and numerous other species. Born Free upholds a dynamic presence in international animal rescues, saving animals from miserable conditions, rehabilitating them, and either providing for their lifetime care in a sanctuary or, whenever possible, rehoming them to the wild.
A companion organization was established in the United States in 2002, Born Free USA, to carry on the work of the organization, involving the American public in our compassionate conservation campaigns. Born Free USA launched with a national office in Washington, DC.
Born Free is committed to spreading its brand of compassionate conservation across America and, indeed, across the globe. Our shared institutional mission is to alleviate animal suffering, protect threatened and endangered species in the wild, and encourage everyone to treat wildlife everywhere with respect and compassion.
The combination of Animal Protection Institute and Born Free USA would not have been possible without the dedicated pro bono legal assistance of the attorneys at Bingham McCutchen
Read more on the work Born Free USA has done for Wolves in the following:
Born Free USA has my continued support and gratitude for all they’ve accomplished for wolves and animals.
Photograph: From left to right: Virginia McKenna, George Adamson, Bill Travers, and Joy Adamson. Virginia and Bill played George & Joy in the hit film Born Free and became wildlife conservationists and founders of The Born Free Foundation
I have been a supporter of Wisconsin’s wolf recovery for a couple of decades. When I began working, as a volunteer monitoring wolves, only 249 wolves resided in Wisconsin (cited from Progress Report of Wolf Population Monitoring in Wisconsin for the period of April – September 2000). During this time, I have seen it all:
1. Wolves listed as temporary to threatened status.
2. Bear hound hunters ignoring WDNR wolf caution warnings, resulting in over $500,000 dollars in reimbursement costs and many dead dogs.
3. Multiple threats to delist the wolf.
The year, 2015, began happily with the return of the Great Lakes wolf under federal protection after 3 years of trophy hunts in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The year ended with good news as well, as a rider was excluded from the federal omnibus bill that would have delisted them (Cited from WODCW blog Great Lakes Wolf News Highlights of the Year 2015)
Another threat to the Great Lakes wolf lies within the outcome of an appeal filed on behalf of several organizations:
“Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed notices – although it acknowledged that the final decision on whether to pursue the case would be made by the Department of Justice. On Feb. 26, Wisconsin filed an appeal, and a day later, Michigan’s DNR also filed. Now add Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, the National Rifle Association, the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Safari Club International, the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, the Upper Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to the list…The joint effort is an attempt to repeal the December 2014 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell that returned wolves in the Western Great Lakes Region – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota – to the endangered species list. The judge’s ruling put an end to wolf management hunts and mandated that people can only kill a wolf in self-defense, but not to protect pets or livestock.” (Cited from Michigan Outdoor News, Appeals mount following court’s wolf ruling by Bill Parker Editor on March 12, 2015)
A decision could be forthcoming from this appeal within the next 2 months. Thus, Great Lakes wolves are not out of the woods yet; read on:
“The Obama administration, Michigan, Wisconsin and Wyoming are appealing the two decisions. Minnesota is not formally a party to the Midwest case, but the state attorney general’s office filed an amicus brief Tuesday supporting a reversal…The brief says Minnesota’s wolf management plan will ensure the animals continue to thrive in the state. It says Minnesota’s wolf population and range have expanded to the point of saturating the habitat in the state since the animals went on the endangered list in 1973, creating “human-wolf conflict that is unique in its cost and prevalence.” Cited from Budget Bill Won’t Have Wolf Management Returning To Minn.)
Humane Society of the United States has filed multiple suits to keep wolves under federal protection on the ESA and won those battles. HSUS’s hard work and efforts has kept the Great Lakes wolf protected for now.
I’m keeping tabs on HSUS for any news about the appeals decision.
April 2012 – July 2012 – Wisconsin enacts legislation mandating a wolf hunting and trapping season, requiring that the state wildlife agency authorize the use of dogs, night hunting, and snare and leg-hold traps. The state wildlife agency adopts regulations for the hunting and trapping of wolves in 2012-2013 via emergency rules, and sets the quota at 201 wolves.
July 2011 – August 2012 – Minnesota enacts legislation allowing a wolf hunting and trapping season once the wolves are delisted. The state wildlife agency adopts regulations for the hunting and trapping of wolves in 2012-2013 via emergency rules, and sets the quota at 400 wolves.
December 2011 – USFWS issues a final rule delisting the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes.
September 2010 – The USFWS issues a finding that petitions to delist wolves in the Great Lakes region “may be warranted.”
July 2009 – The HSUS enters into a court-approved settlement agreement with the USFWS that reinstated federal protections for wolves in the Great Lakes region.
June 2009 – The HSUS files suit in federal court to block the delisting decision.
April 2009 – USFWS issues a final rule delisting the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes.
September 2008 – In response to litigation filed by The HSUS and other organizations, a federal court overturned the USFWS’ Great Lakes delisting decision, thereby reinstating federal protections for gray wolves in the region.
February 2007 – The USFWS issues a final rule delisting the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes.
2005 – 2006 – The USFWS tries to strip wolves of protection by issuing blanket permits to the state of Wisconsin that authorize state officials to kill dozens of wolves. These permits are thrown out by a federal court in response to a lawsuit by The HSUS.
January 2005 – A federal court rules that the 2003 downlisting was arbitrary and capricious, returning the wolf to endangered status.
2003 – USFWS issues a final rule downgrading most of the gray wolves living in the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened, making it easier for people to lethally take wolves.
1974 – Gray wolf listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act throughout the lower 48 states.
1967 – Wolves listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 – the precursor to the Endangered Species Act.
Source: Green Bay Gazette
Recently, a few lawmakers in Congress attempted to subvert federal court rulings and attach a rider to a must-pass spending bill to remove federal protections for wolves.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) opposed this action, working with our allies to ensure that gray wolf populations in the Great Lakes states and Wyoming remain protected according to law. Wolves have no track record of hurting people, and under federal law, problem wolves can be removed under certain circumstances.
The Press-Gazette’s hunting writer properly noted our role in defending wolves, but mischaracterized our broader intentions. (“Wolf delisting out of budget package,” Dec. 24). HSUS is not trying to stop deer hunting and other forms of hunting that are conducted humanely and for meat. Nobody, on the other hand, is killing gray wolves for meat; they are inedible. They are killed for their heads and fur.
On the biology of the issue, more than 70 wildlife biologists and scientists recently wrote to Congress to state the ecological and legal reasons against delisting. In the end, Congress made the right call and showed proper restraint in not meddling with the Endangered Species Act.
Pacelle is president/CEO of the Humane Society of the United States
by Rick Lamplugh’s Blog click HERE to go to Rick’s blog
For wolves and their advocates, 2015 was a year of triumph and tragedy. The year began with the glow from a great victory: wolves had been placed back under federal protection in four states where they had been slaughtered. The year ended with advocates breathing a tired sigh of nervous relief that wolves had not been stripped of that federal protection through a last-minute, cagey congressional rider.
Meanwhile, wolves did what comes naturally: dispersed in search of mates and territory. Wolves returned to their home in a state where they had not walked in ninety years. In other wolf states they dispersed into new areas.
And we humans also did what comes naturally: we let our wide-ranging beliefs about these essential predators bring out our best and worst. In one state, pro-wolf and anti-wolf groups met regularly to try and find common ground. In another state, a poacher in his truck chased an innocent wolf down, shot it, turned himself in, and was fined a measly $100 for killing an endangered animal.
Here is a wolf-state-by-wolf-state report on the triumphs and tragedies of 2015. As well as a glimpse into what 2016 may hold in store for wolves and their advocates.
In May and July, trail cameras in Siskiyou County recorded images of two adult wolves and five pups. California’s first wolf pack was named the Shasta Pack. Their scat was analyzed, and DNA revealed that the Shasta pack’s breeding female was born into Oregon’s Imnaha Pack, that state’s first wolf pack.
Any wolf that enters California is protected under both state and federal Endangered Species Acts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will encourage the use of non-lethal methods to minimize livestock losses from wolves. This welcoming of wolves was, for Patricia Herman, founder of California-based Protect the Wolves advocacy group, “…our biggest success after fighting for so long with so many states to stop killing them. When we found a state that actually welcomed the idea of wolves it was a dream come true.”
The gray wolf is native to California. Records from 1750 to 1850 show that wolves roamed California’s Coastal Range from San Diego to Sacramento. From 1850-1900, they were spotted in Shasta County and in the central Sierra Nevada.
California has plenty of room for more wolves. The Klamath-Siskiyou and Modoc Plateau regions in northern California and southwestern Oregon could support up to 470 wolves, according to a study conducted by the Conservation Biology Institute and reported by the California Wolf Center.
CDFW is preparing for the return of wolves by developing a wolf management plan. “But the plan steps far outside the bounds of credible research and into the world of special interest-driven politics when it calls for authorizing the state to kill wolves when the population reaches as few as 50 to 75 animals,” says Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity. The deadline to comment on California’s plan is February 15, 2016.
By early 2015 Oregon had 81 wolves in nine packs, most in eastern Oregon. OR-7’s Rogue pack lives in the southwestern part of the state. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) confirmed that two new wolves were spotted traveling in territory near the Rogue pack.
Oregon’s response to the return of wolves has been positive. “Oregon has been the only state in the nation with a meaningful wolf population that did not kill them despite having the authority to do so,” said Rob Klavins of Oregon Wild.
But that may change. In November, ODFW stripped Oregon’s wolves of state endangered species protection. Wolves remain fully protected in the western two-thirds of state under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Northeast Oregon, where most of the wolves live, ranchers can still only shoot a wolf caught in the act of wounding, biting, killing, or chasing livestock. The state still makes non-lethal deterrence the first choice for resolving conflicts between ranchers and wolves.
To delist wolves, ODFW had to show that wolves were not in danger of extinction or population failure. The agency claims it did that. Klavins says ODFW did not. “They ignored substantive critiques from world-renowned scientists while justifying delisting based on a few sentences (in some cases cherry-picked) from a small number of selected experts of varying levels of credibility. They ignored over 20,000 public comments and overwhelming public testimony in favor of continued protections. They ignored troubling conflicts of interest and likely violated important legal requirements. The agency was dishonest with conservation stakeholders. Governor Brown was silent.”
On December 30, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal challenge to the removal of protection from gray wolves under Oregon’s Endangered Species act.
By early 2015, Washington had at least 68 wolves in 16 confirmed packs in the eastern and central portions of the state. Though Congress stripped wolves of federal Endangered Species Act protections in the eastern third of the state, all wolves remain protected under Washington’s ESA.
But, as elsewhere, protection hasn’t stopped the killing. According to the Seattle Times, at least half a dozen Washington wolves have been killed by poachers since 2012. This includes a Whitman County poacher fined a measly $100 last September. Another wolf was struck and killed on Interstate 90. State sharpshooters in helicopters shot and killed seven wolves in one pack in 2012 for preying on livestock.
The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) went to court to stop such state-sponsored killing. WELC sued Wildlife Services, a federal extermination program under the USDA, challenging its authority to kill wolves in Washington. In late December the Seattle Times reported that a federal judge ruled that killing wolves “to reduce predation on livestock is not only highly controversial, but highly uncertain to work as intended, given the ongoing scientific dispute about the policy.
Therefore, the agency must complete a full environmental-impact statement before engaging further in “lethal removal” of wolves…”
As of early December, north-central Washington has a new wolf pack. The Loup Loup pack was identified after numerous reports of wolf sightings prompted wildlife officials to investigate the Methow Valley. Biologists tracked up to six animals traveling together. Because this pack is in western Washington, the animals are protected under the federal ESA. Officials plan to outfit at least one wolf with a radio collar.
Wolves have also been spotted in the North Cascades, where they have been moving back and forth across the Canadian border. Scientists have identified more wild landscape in Washington that wolves could occupy, including on the Olympic Peninsula.
The most recent official count found 770 wolves surviving in Idaho at the end of 2014. In that same year, hunters killed 256 wolves, wildlife agents killed 67, and 19 other wolves died at the hands of humans.
And 2015 looks to be as deadly. Wildlife Services has removed 70 wolves and as of early December 120 wolves have been shot or trapped, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. And 145 more could still die.
The cost of hunting licenses reveals how Idaho values wolves. A wolf tag costs $11.50, while a turkey tag costs $19.75. A tag to take an elk costs $30.75. Hunters may buy up to five wolf hunting tags per year and use electronic calls to attract wolves.
A group of hunters with the misleading name Idaho for Wildlife was planning a January 2016 wolf and coyote killing derby on public lands near Salmon, Idaho. The contest included a $1,000 prize for whoever kills the most wolves and another $1,000 to the killer of the most coyotes. But in mid-November the group canceled the derby after being challenged in the courts by the Western Environmental Law Center, representing WildEarth Guardians, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Boulder-White Clouds Council. Four other groups—Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, and Project Coyote—also sued the Bureau of Land Management, contending the permit opposes the federal government’s wolf-reintroduction efforts.
Both lawsuits continue since the derby organizer has said that the derby would be held in January—but on private ranches in the Salmon area and on U.S. Forest Service land that doesn’t require a permit.
In early-August, conservation groups won another victory for Idaho wolves. Earthjustice, representing Ralph Maughan, Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity, had filed a federal lawsuit to halt the killing of wolves in Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Idaho wanted to kill 60% of the wolves in this federally protected area managed by the USFS. But the USFS has told Earthjustice that Idaho will kill no wolves in the area in the winter of 2015-2016.
The number of gray wolves in Montana continues to fall under state management. The verified population at the end of 2014 (latest data) was 554, as compared to 627 wolves at the end of 2013, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP). In 2011, the year wolves were stripped of ESA protection, there were 653 wolves in Montana.
In 2014, 308 wolves died; 301 at the hands of humans. Wildlife managers, including Wildlife Services, killed 57 of those wolves. Hunters killed 206 during the state’s expanded 2014-15 hunting season. A wolf-hunting license costs $19 for residents, and 20,383 wolf licenses were sold in 2014. The combined maximum hunting and trapping bag limit is five wolves per person.
Conservation groups saved some wolves from hunters. In July of 2015 The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission reduced from three to two the number of wolves that can be killed each year in two hunting districts near the north border of Yellowstone National Park. These districts are two of the three more tightly controlled wolf-hunting districts in the state. The third is near Glacier National Park, which already had a quota of two wolves. This quota reduction represents ongoing success: In 2014 wolf advocates were able to get the quota in those two units adjoining Yellowstone reduced from four to three wolves.
Also in 2015 MFWP brought together groups that want to protect wolves (for example, Wolves of the Rockies, Bear Creek Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Montana Audobon Society) and groups that want to shoot wolves (Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Bowhunters’ Association, and Montana Stockgrowers’ Association). The groups discussed, among other issues, whether non-hunting conservation groups and hunter conservation groups can find common ground. “This is a promising move forward in working together for the betterment of wildlife management and is open to the public to attend,” said Kim Bean, vice-president of Wolves of the Rockies.
At the end of 2014 (most recent count), Wyoming had 229 wolves in the state with an additional 104 in Yellowstone National Park for a total of 333 wolves.
In 2014 Earthjustice, representing Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity, fought in court to keep Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Wyoming. The coalition won and stopped the killing of Wyoming’s wolves. The federal government and the state of Wyoming have appealed. “Wyoming appears determined to defend its uniquely hostile approach to wolf management,” said Tim Preso, managing attorney for Earthjustice.
History supports Preso’s statement. The federal government turned wolf management over to Wyoming in 2012. Most of the state was designated a predator zone, where anyone could kill any wolf, at any time, and for any reason. In less than two years, more than 200 wolves were slaughtered, according to Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife. Among the early victims of Wyoming’s killing spree was 06, the famous alpha female of Yellowstone’s Lamar Canyon pack.
The return of ESA protection has not stopped the killing. Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, reported in late-October that 55 wolves have been killed in Wyoming—mostly by Wildlife Services—and that is the largest government-funded wolf killing in eight years.
In mid-November, two U.S. senators (Republicans from Wyoming and Wisconsin) vowed to push to strip federal protection from gray wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states—and to prohibit courts from intervening in those states on the embattled predator’s behalf.
The Great Lakes States
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimated that 3,722 wolves live in the three Great Lakes states, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. About sixty percent of those wolves roam Minnesota. The remainder is split almost evenly between Michigan and Wisconsin.
In December of 2014, all of those wolves came back under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. Relisting was a huge victory for wolf advocates, but fighting to keep them listed, says Rachel Tilseth, of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, has been the biggest challenge of 2015. She told Wisconsin Public Radio, “Can states be trusted to manage wolves? I think not, and many other scientists agree that individual states cannot be trusted.”
In November two groups of scientists wrote letters about whether the gray wolf should be delisted as an endangered species.
First came a letter signed by 26 wildlife scientists urging the federal government to strip ESA protection from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region. The scientists sent the letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Dan Ashe, director of USFWS. Among those writing the letter were David Mech, a wolf specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Minnesota. The scientists say that the integrity of the ESA is undercut if species aren’t removed when they’ve scientifically recovered. They believe that the combined population in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin represents recovery.
Less than a week later a group of 70 scientists and scholars wrote an open letter disagreeing with their colleagues. These scientists said that removing ESA protection from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin could be justified if and when the USFWS “uses the best available science that justifies delisting,” But, they added, ”Currently, it does not.”
“Quite simply, wolves still fit the legal definition of endangerment in the Great Lakes region and nationwide,” said the scientists, including John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson of Michigan Technological University, leaders of a long-standing study of wolves at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.
The Associated Press reported that in the rebuttal letter, the scientists said public tolerance of wolves has risen substantially since they were given protection. Any suggestions that patience is wearing thin are spread by “special interest groups that are vocal, but small in number.”
Michigan has about 630 wolves and all were believed to reside in the Upper Peninsula. In September, the website Michigan Live reported that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) confirmed that a second gray wolf has reached the Lower Peninsula. Genetic testing of male wolf scat found that this dispserser may have originated in northeast Ontario. Though wolves have moved into the Lower Peninsula, there’s not yet evidence of a breeding population.
Meanwhile, in Isle Royale National Park, the wolf population has fallen to three, including one deformed from inbreeding. In 2014, park officials hoped that new wolves would come to the island across ice bridges, but that didn’t happen. “There is now a good chance that it is too late to conduct genetic rescue,” John Vucetich told UPI. Vucetich and Rolf Peterson suggest that fewer and smaller ice bridges as well as development on the mainland may hinder repopulation.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said in August that the state’s wolf population estimate has not varied “significantly” over the last three years. The latest survey estimates that 2,221 wolves live in 374 packs within northern and central Minnesota. That estimate is down from the previous winter’s estimate of 2,423 wolves.
In June, wildlife officials announced that the state’s wolf population is close to an all-time high. Preliminary surveys conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) place current wolf numbers between 746 and 771, about a 13 percent increase from last year’s 660.
In August, WDNR reported that a pack of three to four wolves resides in the Wisconsin Dells area, according to WiscNews. Except for one other location in the state’s southwest, this is the farthest south that wolves have migrated in Wisconsin.
A Look Ahead to 2016
Here’s how some of the advocates contacted for this report see 2016 shaping up.
“Sadly, our wolf, wildlife, and environmental issues will play out in the political arena based largely on special interest and politics, not on science, conservation, or preservation,” says Dr. Robin Chriss of Chriss Wildlife Consulting. “We need to be there in solidarity as wolf advocates, to be a voice. If not, we will lose a lot in 2016.”
“Corporate ranchers and farmers,” says Patricia Herman of Protect the Wolves, “don’t want to learn to coexist with wolves. They just want to continue to take more and more land, until there is no room for wildlife anywhere.”
“Keeping the Great Lakes wolves under federal protection,” says Rachel Tilseth of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, “is and will be the biggest challenge of 2016.”
For Oregon Wild’s Rob Klavins, 2016 looks scary. “Anti-wolf interests and their political allies have brought anti-wolf legislation every year since wolf recovery began. They’ve promised to do so again, and wolves have lost some of their champions in recent years.”
Kim Bean from Wolves of the Rockies believes the attack on the ESA will continue and “wolves will most likely be delisted nationally.” This leaves the states to manage wolves without any federal help. “We as advocates,” advises Bean, “need to stand and fight even harder, and will need the help of an empathetic public to do so. We need one loud and powerful voice.”
I’m a fan of Nature 365 and have the ap on my IPad. Brandenburg and Joffrion’s daily webdocumentary present the viewer with beauty, serenity and spirituality of our natural world. I crave more of these videos and hope this series will continue in 2016. ~Rachel
Introduction by Jim Brandenburg, wildlife photographer and filmmaker
For many years I filmed the forests around my wilderness home in the great northwoods and the wide-open prairies of my childhood. I had no particular project in mind; I simply enjoyed documenting the moods of the day and the coming and goings of the wild creatures that were almost like family to me. It became like a diary and for many years it was rare not to ‘write’ something with my camera nearly every day.
Those precious experiences and memories have now found a safe home where they can be shared with many of my friends from around the world. It surprised me how extensive this diary had become. Day by day, year after year the pages accumulated. The resulting journal found its voice. Each day a one minute impression of a unique event that I was fortunate to witness is presented. Less can be more in this case. Like a good poem, the material that is left out gives weight to what remains. Nature has blessed me with its gifts of subtle but powerful teaching. One might even describe these moments I give back as a form of a small prayer; a mindful effort to pay homage to a wild and natural living land.
There were themes that kept presenting themselves to me – like the resident wolf pack that over the years learned to trust my presence. The wolf is a recurring subject, perhaps more than any other. In their trust, secrets were revealed to my camera that were not known, even to science. Then on occasion I entered into another world and encountered a ghost from the past in the name of a Native American spirit. Those that lived a natural existence here for centuries before me have left a strong presence. I felt their presence and knew it was appropriate to include that spirit.
The seasons would usually slide into their nearly imperceptive rhythm and other times the land transformed overnight. The magic of living and embracing the grandeur of wild nature is heightened by dramatic weather changes that can leave city dwellers unbalanced. Nature has become the enemy to many. That is a dangerous condition.
I have tried to project the miracle as I saw it. A translation of the unknown gift we often don’t understand or even see. I hope the message was received and understood, better yet felt. For that I would be honored; the land and its creatures would be eternally thankful.
Intentions by Laurent Joffrion, director
One day, Jim Brandenburg came to me with a mysterious gift. He gave me some hard drives filled with video clips that no one had ever seen. A work of several years in the northwoods and the great prairies of the Midwest, USA. His backyard at Ravenwood, where he lives, and Luverne, where he was born.
« It’s for you… he said, I don’t know what we can do with this, but perhaps we could work together ? »
An honor and a great challenge.
So I reviewed all of these videos. For hours and hours… And I found this remarkable body of work. I watched the seasons pass through the years. Spring blooms, fall colors, first snows, vast frozen horizons… I followed streams and canoed on preserved lakes; I wandered the great plains on the bison footsteps. Deep in the forest, I witnessed how the wolf pack evolved and their puppies grew; Wild orchids, migrating birds gathering, prairie dogs… I marveled at air bubbles trapped under transparent ice, at sparkling frost or morning silhouettes hiding in the fog. I contemplated northern lights, heard the loons call, slept under the stars…
For almost ten years, Jim filmed his natural environment, keeping an exclusive journal. Exceptional. These videos are remarkable as they come from a long term commitment, as they reflect a unique and poetic vision by Jim, and as they show the beauty and diversity of the great natural systems of the northern hemisphere, the boreal forest and the great plains, as they are when their wilderness is preserved. I don’t think I’ll ever have an other opportunity to work with such a body of work on a natural history subject.
Then, thinking about Jim’s previous successes such as Chased By The Light, Looking for the Summer or 93 Days of Spring, all built on the principle of one picture a day, I thought «Why don’t we present one daily video sequence, for the whole next year ? 365 original clips which, as a set, would reveal the pertinence of Jim’s documentary work. A journal; a collection of short and personal stories; an innovating web documentary offering an authentic and poetic vision of nature…»
This project, named Nature 365, was born from my connection with Jim, the discovery of his rare and precious video work, and from our common wish to share it with people. I hope that each person who will here discover this great wilderness, will appreciate it as much as I do.
Jim Brandenburg has published many bestsellers including: Chased by the Light, Looking for the Summer, Brother Wolf, White Wolf and Minnesota Images of Home. He has also published many young adult books including the National Geographic book titled Face to Face with Wolves. His movie and TV work includes filming with NHK in Japan, National Geographic Television Specials and the BBC television series “Life.” Several Brandenburg photographic exhibitions are planned in the US, Europe and Japan over the next several years.
Jim Brandenburg’s work can be seen on the web at http://www.jimbrandenburg.com or at the Brandenburg Gallery in Ely, Minnesota and Luverne, Minnesota.
About Laurent Joffrion
His passion for nature and his particular interest for the relationship that unites man with his environment inspire french director Laurent Joffrion to usually offer an optimistic vision of nature. Stories of artists who value biodiversity, stories about people committed to the preservation of their natural heritage, stories about synergies and conservation projects… His most important films have won awards at national and international festivals. Laurent Joffrion has worked with several television production companies, in France and abroad, and on the new medias by exploring innovating narrative forms. For this purpose, he created the multimedia company FollowFocus, which runs the Nature 365 channel : http://www.followfocus.fr
December 29, 2015 click HERE to watch the last video of the year. The following are Jim’s thoughts…
Once a wolf – Day 363 of 365
This being the last wolf video of the year, I’d like to share some background on the continuing story of the Ravenwood wolves. The image of the wolf skull in this moment has a story with it that I felt you should hear.
Ravenwood is my home tucked in the wilds of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. It is the area where all the wolves in Nature365 were filmed. It’s a vast wild land that contains the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi. The huge Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is just outside my door. Only two major roads between my home and the North Pole would be crossed if one went that direction. My location is just four miles from Canada.
I moved there many years ago to be close to the only small pocket of wolf population that escaped extermination and near extinction in the contiguous U.S. Wolves have roamed this land since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. They have always been a crucial part of this ecosystem, and were here long before us humans and the white-tailed deer, that we love to hunt so very much. Wolves represent the wild as much as any animal I know. I needed to be close – to live with them to tell their story. For more than 35 years I’ve attempted to do just that through words and pictures. It hasn’t been easy but it certainly has been rewarding and even life changing.
When I first came to the wild Northwoods from the tamed prairie I saw the hatred for the wolf. It is not unique to Minnesota. I have seen that same fear and disgust in my travels all around the world, from Norway (one of the worst examples) to France. I only see a form of curious compassion in countries where the wolf has disappeared. That’s the way it goes – once we lose or destroy something there is often a new and fresher view and understanding. Perhaps a form of regret, and/or guilt, comes over the reflective and collective culture – a looking back.
In my studies and work with animals I have seen that the wolf is unique in how people perceive them. It is the most persecuted and misunderstood animal of them all. That is a story I expanded greatly upon in my book Brother Wolf. It is one reason I chose to spend my life with wolves and tell their story. I had thought over the years the work that some of us had done had made a difference.
I was rather startled by the attention that came my way because of the wolf connection ‘fame’. The wolf became a charismatic figure – it felt like a revolution had taken place. Movies were made like “Dances with Wolves”, hundreds of books were published and wolf centers were built like worship temples – bringing in thousands of people. I needed to retreat deeper into the forest from the rock star – like attention. At the same time I was terribly pleased to see the public’s new love for the wolf.
Then, the reality of a sad and deepening trend surfaced. The “a wolf got my deer” hunting crowd proposed a wolf hunt. Almost over night a bill was written and promoted by misguided legislators to satisfy the angry hunters and wolf haters. I never would have dreamed of such a development. The bill passed. The mystery is how it slipped by with 80% of Minnesotans opposing a wolf sport hunt. It is a complex and old sad story where misperceptions and scapegoating prevailed to achieve political ends. With resentment and competition towards wolves, it became easy to incite the willing with emotional tales that played to fears. Wolves were terrorists in our midst.
All of the wolves that you have been watching on these daily videos are gone now. I have not seen a wolf at Ravenwood in more than four years! Ever since the first wolf hunt the wolf family that I got to know so well was either shot or dispersed because of the stress because of the chaos that developed. As you have seen through the year, the wolf family is extremely closely knit. Not unlike the human family. I have seen the depression and confusion that overtakes the pack’s mood when one or two go missing. Those of you that have dogs know how they react when a prominent member of the human or dog family leaves. Same animal, with the same reaction – dogs are wolves. That’s why I have a hard time understanding the sport-killing concept.
One serious unintended (but not surprising) consequence happened once the hunt was in place. It’s rarely talked about, or even known in wolf circles. I have been in a unique position to see the profound change in a wolf pack caught up in that war… that’s what it looks and feels like to me. That consequence is that once Federal laws took protection away from the wolf and the state Department of Natural Resources allowed a hunt, it caused a kind of subtle permission to degrade the protective status or even “feeling” that wolves were off limits to kill. I know many of the wolves in my pack were killed illegally – the dam was opened and the culture gave its permission with an uncaring wink. I have heard first hand stories of local wolf haters shooting them out of season. Bragging goes on in the local bars; it’s a status thing with some (not all) in the hunting tribe – a badge of honor. One needs to live in the culture to see it. Secrets are revealed. I saw things that are lost to visitors.
Very few, if any have spent as much time as I have – living near the pack and in the midst of several generations of wolves being born and dying. I knew them all – some intimately. I hope this daily peek into my wolf world has helped some understand and see the magic of this remarkable animal. It’s a partnership that goes back 40,000 years or more when man invited the wolf into his family and then they became dogs.
The status of the wolf comes and goes in the Federal legal sense. For now they are safe in Minnesota. That will be challenged again I’m sure. If we care and value this national treasure I would encourage people to make even a small gesture to help. Howling for Wolves is a Minnesota based group that has made a huge difference in exposing the wolf’s plight. Please see their work here and contribute: http://www.howlingforwolves.org. I also am very proud to have worked with my friend Julia Huffman in making her documentary movie Medicine of the Wolf that tells the story of the hunt and reveals some intimate details of my wolf experiences at Ravenwood. One can purchase or rent the movie on iTunes or Julia’s website: http://www.medicineofthewolf.com.
There is a mix of sadness and relief in sharing this story. It has changed my life; things never remain the same – in nature and in culture. A combination of sadness and pride is also felt in seeing this year’s collection of moments end. A total of about six hours has been shown in the Nature365 series. It is at times difficult to see and comprehend how much time and effort I invested into this. When one is in love, measurements don’t matter. I was in love with my subject. I hope those that did not see all of the moments this past year will have the opportunity to view them during the next year as they will be replayed in full on this site.
Finally, my dear friends and colleagues at the editing studio in France did the incredible task of crafting each day from the hundreds of hours of video that I shot over the years. I give my deepest admiration and respect to Laurent Joffrion who conceived and directed this year’s NATURE 365 presentation. Benoit Maximos and Léo-Pol Jacquot patiently worked with Laurent and me through the year. I am indeed humbled and honored.