After Years of False Starts, WDNR Finally Moves on Developing an Updated Wolf Management Plan

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.  

The History

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

 

 

Wisconsin Conservation Congress Online Voting Begins April 11, 2022 Starting at 07:00 PM

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) question #44 is about use of dogs to hunt wolves. Would you support banning the use of dogs from hunting wolves in Wisconsin should wolves get delisted again?

Dogs hunting wolves wasn’t anticipated following wolf delisting in January 2012. Dogs are run through wolf territories despite WDNR alerts, resulting in dogs and wolves getting injured and killed. Hound hunting, (six hunting hounds per wolf) will force harassed wolves to alter their behavior to perceive dogs as a threat when their territories are invaded, often deadly to both species. Exhausted wolves, harassed by hounds for six-months can’t hunt, care for young or protect territory. Wisconsin anticruelty laws prohibit canine fighting. The scientific community majority and hunters agree that dogs hunting wolves is not necessary to have a successful hunt. Hound hunting is proven to be disruptive to wolves causing a dramatic increase in wolf conflicts and wolf depredation/compensation payments that could better be spent on other WDNR conservation efforts. Depredation monies should not be paid for hunting hounds being put at risk. Wolves were relisted as endangered (December 2014). Congress may take legislative action to permanently delist the wolf, returning management to Wisconsin which allows hound hunting of wolves, NOT advised by wolf experts.

The Wisconsin spring hearing questions by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) includes a question on the use of dogs to hunt wolves. This is your opportunity to comment on whether you approve the use of dogs for hunting wolves in Wisconsin. Click Here to view the questions.

Click Here to go to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Annual Spring Meeting, April 11, 2022, to find out how to register to vote.

Citizens will be able to provide input on Wisconsin’s natural resource issues through the 2022 Spring Hearings which will again be online beginning April 11, 2022 (starting at 7:00 pm) and remain open through 7:00 pm on April 14, 2022. Information on the questions being asked, how to participate, and how citizens can introduce a resolution will be posted here as it becomes available. Click Here for more information.

With the Spring Hearings online, elections for delegates will not be held this year, but the WCC is taking applications through March 11 to fill current and future vacancies. Visit the local delegate pagefor more information.

Each year the WCC accepts ideas for possible changes to natural resource policy and regulations through citizen resolutions. The resolutions must be submitted through the online submittal tool and must be received by midnight on March 11, 2022. If you have an idea for change, please follow the directions to submit your resolution.Submit a Citizen Resolution

Join the the Facebook Page

The state of wolf recovery in Wisconsin update.

Gray wolves in much of the lower 48 have regained federal protection following a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The most recent wolf population is estimated at 1,126 gray wolves in Wisconsin over the winter wolf count July 2021 WDNR.

The Gray wolf was extirpated from Wisconsin’s forests by the 1950s and had been hunted to near extinction in the Lower fort-eight states by the mid-1900s. As a result, the wolf, was one of the first animals to get protection against most killing, harassing, and habitat destruction under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since then, its limited revival has been one of the success stories of the ESA Act.

Gray wolves began entering Wisconsin through Minnesota, and by the late 1970s, Gray wolves were establishing home territories in Wisconsin. The newly created Wisconsin Wolf Recovery Program began monitoring packs, and soon wolves were establishing territories throughout Wisconsin’s northern & central forests. 

The Wisconsin wolf recovery program hit some significant roadblocks starting in 2011. In 2011 just as gray wolves were about to be delisted, the Wisconsin state legislature rushed to create a law. Wisconsin Act 169 is a law that mandates a wolf hunt when they are not Endangered Species. Wisconsin held three wolf hunts and allowed hunters to run dogs on wolves. Wisconsin is the only state to allow the use of dogs; Wisconsin quite literally throws dogs to wolves. But a federal judge ordered the gray wolf be put back n the ESA in December 2014.

But the Trump Administration delisted gray wolves once again on January 4, 2021. Gray wolves were barely off the ESL when the battle to hunt them began. Hunter Nation, a conservative advocacy group, sued to get a wolf hunt. Under a court order, the Department of Natural Resources was forced to launch a one-week wolf hunt. The department reported that hunters and trappers had killed 52 wolves on the second day, falling nearly 44% of the 119-animal statewide quota. Another 81 wolves are allocated to Ojibwe tribes, for a total of 200 this year. Wolf hunters told other hunters not to register animals right away so that the hunt would stay open. In the end, the wolf hunters not only took their allotted quota but took the tribe’s quota. Hunter Nation, a conservation advocacy group, had won the right to kill an endangered species fresh off the ESL.

The hunt was Controversial for several reasons. In February, opening a wolf hunt disrupted the gray wolf’s breeding season, potentially killing pregnant females and using dogs to hunt wolves. More than anything, this forced wolf hunt proved no one was listening to the scientific community. Opposing forces were dominating the conversation. It was a conversation heard all around the world!

In February 2022, wolves were returned to the ESL in Wisconsin. The DNR is attempting to update the wolf management plan. Trying is the right word because recently, the results of the committee findings were released showing how far apart the committee is in regards to wolf management.

Wisconsin’s Wolf Management Plan Explored

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has begun the work to update wolf Management. Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin’s investigative writer, Manish Bhatt, will be updating readers regarding the DNR wolf Management plan process, the latest wolf progress report, and the Public Attitudes Towards Wolves 2014 Survey.

Upcoming Feature Article & Radio Talk schedules for April 2022

WORT Radio Access Hour Presents 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.

Photograph credit John E Marriott

According to large carnivores ecologist, Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila, it’s a good thing that there are people out tracking wolves and it might just discourage the revenge killing of wolves by angry fringe hunters. Why? Because having people out there who have positive attitudes towards wolves just might make a fringe hunter think twice about illegally killing one of Wisconsin’s gray wolves. I’m out there along with other citizen volunteer winter wolf trackers. There’s plenty of other citizens out enjoying the the ski & snowshoe trails as well. I’ve written a story about volunteer citizen winter wolf trackers that will be in the April issue of Silent Sports Magazine. Make sure you grab your issue before heading out on the trails! And if you are interested in participating in the program drop us an email at this website to learn how to register for upcoming workshops.

Our Mission

Ally of the Grey Wolf 

Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin’s mission is to educate so you can advocate. We are an ally of the Grey wolf. We create and promote through media communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the internet) in order to educate the public about the ecology of grey wolves. We share our experiences, our expertise, and our passion for wild grey wolves in Wisconsin, the USA and Italy. We don’t tell you, we inspire you to act by giving you the truth (Science) about wild grey wolves that are struggling to survive worldwide.

We envision a world where coexistence between people & wolves is the “norm”.

We value scientific fact. We are professionals from all walks of life and we respect our Mother Earth because of all that we have been given by her/him. We believe by saving the wolf that we will save the planet. Grey wolves are essential sentient-beings and deserve our respect. 

“We educate so you can advocate.”

Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin was founded in 2012 to stop the barbaric hunt of Wisconsin’s wild grey Wolf. 

Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin is not aligned or allied with any other wolf & wildlife groups in Wisconsin. 

“We are a spirit, we are a natural part of the earth, and all of our ancestors, all of our relations who have gone to the spirit world, they are here with us. That’s power. They will help us. They will help us to see if we are willing to look.” —John Trudell

Gray Wolves Regain Federal Protection

Gray wolves in much of the lower 48 have regained federal protection  following a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. 

Photo Credit: John E. Marriott

In the final months of the Trump administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule that delisted the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act.  Gray wolves were also previously delisted through the Bush (2007), and Obama Administrations (2009, 2012). The 2020 delisting was hailed by the then-Administration as a success story and defended in Federal Court by the Biden Administration.  As a result of the 2020 effort, the gray wolf returned to state and tribal management throughout the U.S. after over 40 years of federal protection.

Gray wolf recovery “depends on the cooperation of wildlife managers at the state, tribal and federal levels, and a reliance on the best available science to guide management decisions.”                                               – Secretary Haaland, Department of the Interior

 

On February 10, 2022, Judge Jeffrey White of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued an ruling which nullified the delisting of the gray wolf and restored federal protection for the animal in much of the U.S.  Gray wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming were previously delisted and not the subject of the Judge’s opinion. Similarly, Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico were never delisted and never lost federal protection. However, as ordered by Judge White, a George W. Bush appointee, management of gray wolves in the lower 48 outside of the Northern Rockies will once again be in the hands of the Federal Government. The ruling comes days after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrote of the successes of gray wolf conservation and that their recovery “depends on the cooperation of wildlife managers at the state, tribal and federal levels, and a reliance on the best available science to guide management decisions.” 

The 2020 delisting of the gray wolf was heralded by some and scorned by others.  It was this rule that began a legal challenge that ultimately resulted in the February 2021 wolf hunt in Wisconsin – a hunt that garnered headlines for the speed at which the hunting quota was achieved and surpassed.  A Dane County Wisconsin judge later blocked a Fall 2021 wolf hunt holding that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must first propose a rule for wolf hunting that would need to be approved by the legislature.  With Judge White’s federal order, Wisconsin’s state managed wolf hunt is foreclosed, for the moment. 

Whether the Biden Administration will appeal Judge White’s order remains an open question as is Wisconsin’s update to the state’s Wolf Management Plan. The state’s current plan was developed in 1999 and updated in 2007. However, the DNR had been working toward a new update to the plan in 2022. 

“I hope the DNR will move forward…and clarify what the management goals for the state ought to be.”          – Adrian Wydeven, retired DNR Wolf Biologist

 

Rachel Tilseth, founder of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, believes there is still work to do. The gray wolf “may be protected again (blessing) but nothing’s changed. Still have the same fight between pro and anti-wolf organizations with no compromise.  The work must continue to write a comprehensive wolf management plan that takes into account all stakeholders,” Tilseth writes. 

Adrian Wydeven, a retired Wisconsin DNR wolf biologist, hopes that Wisconsin will complete the wolf management plan update. “I hope the DNR will move forward…and clarify what the management goals for the state ought to be,” Wydeven said. He also expressed hope “to see states manage wolves [once again] but to do so more responsibly and without politics.” 

Whether and when the states outside of the Northern Rockies will be responsible for the management of wolves is likely the subject of additional litigation and rulemaking. For now, the gray wolf in much of the lower 48 is under federal management and protection. 

 

Wisconsin Wolf News: Secretary Deb Haaland Upholds Treaty Rights

“The law requires that states uphold reserved tribal treaty rights. Therefore, in the case of the Ojibwe Tribes in Wisconsin, the Interior Department formally requested that the state consult and coordinate with the tribes when making wolf management decisions and respect the tribes’ right to conserve rather than kill wolves. We will take similar actions on behalf of other tribes where necessary.” by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior

The statement by Haaland makes it clear that Wisconsin’s tribes have the right to make decisions regarding wolf Management along with other stakeholders in Wisconsin. Read her full statement here.

“Gray wolves a native species, existing on the landscape have an innate right to exist, and a right to occur within areas of suitable habitat on the landscape. It’s important that we point out the ecological justification for their benefits, but at the same time, they have an innate right to exist. We need to appreciate that and allow them to persist and live on the landscape.” —Adrian Wydeven

Fine art credit Barrettbiggers

“The Return of Wolves: Isle Royal National Park” Predator/Prey Relationship

A Study in How the Predator/Prey Relationship Between Wolves and Moose was Re-Established on Isle Royale National Park

The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation Link and its collaborative partners have released a new documentary film, “The Return of Wolves: Isle Royale National Park,” a culmination of a four-year, ongoing initiative that studies how the predator/prey relationship between wolves and moose was re-established on Isle Royale National Park. Watch the film.

The corresponding free educational plans in “Lessons from the Wilderness” offer educators in the classroom and homeschool settings the opportunity to teach students about the unique relationship between wolves and moose on Isle Royale National Park and how it alters the ecosystem. This program has lessons for K-12 learners in four age groups, with a curriculum most relevant and appropriate for each grade level. VIEW CURRICULUM

The Truth Matters

OPINION, COMMENTARY

Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash

THE TRUTH MATTERS

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.

 

Outdoor Writer Compares: Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Act to a Bag of Stale Air

I’m sharing a post from Patrick Durkin Outdoors because his writing is a breath of fresh air. Durkin proves the written word is mightier than a conservative advocacy group, Hunter Nation, that has been “misguiding” the narrative regarding hunting ethics. He has managed to prey open a door that’s been warped overtime from lack of use. Let’s just name it here; common sense!

Durkin not only brings in fresh air to a “stale air” narrative, but unlocks the door with proven facts. I agree wholeheartedly with him that it’s time to get busy and focus on solutions to CWD, a problem facing Wisconsin’s white-tailed deer population!

I’ve witnessed over the last ten years how groups like Hunter Nation can skew reality to their advantage. This is not just a problem of the opposition, it’s a fast growing concern for all advocates on both sides, because of groups that are controlling the narrative by spreading misinformation to gain followers. We have lost precious ground when it comes to solving problems that affect Wisconsin’s natural resources because of these political tricks. But Durkin has reminded us of how easily we can get off the reality tracks! Read on!

Despite such dismal numbers (CWD), GOP lawmakers are ignoring the mess by distracting everyone with the Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Act. This bag of stale air from the Kansas-based group Hunter Nation doesn’t even mention CWD.” Patrick Durkin Outdoors


Wisconsin Lawmakers: End the Frolic with Hunter Nation, by Patrick Durkin Outdoors

Wisconsin this month fortified its standing as the capital of the world for chronic wasting disease by verifying the plague in wild deer in 38 of the state’s 72 counties.

Yep, Wisconsin now has more counties with CWD in free-ranging deer than it does counties without. We passed the halfway mark Jan. 11 when the Department of Natural Resources reported two adult bucks in Monroe County and one deer in Oconto County tested positive for the always-fatal disease.

We started the 2021 hunting seasons with CWD in 34 counties but made it 35 when the DNR confirmed a sick adult doe Oct. 29 in Fond du Lac County. We then reached the halfway point Dec. 12 when the DNR confirmed a sick yearling (18 months old) buck in Vilas County.

And just think what we’d find if we searched aggressively for CWD. All four newly christened CWD counties found their first cases despite modest sampling efforts. Hunters in Monroe County have provided a respectable 373 samples during the current testing year, but hunters in Oconto provided only 162; Vilas, 161; and Fond du Lac, 105.

The 2021 sampling year ends March 31, but it’s safe to report that 25 Wisconsin counties will end the year with less than 100 samples tested, given the hunt is largely over.

As of Jan.15, Wisconsin has confirmed 9,450 CWD cases since discovering the disease in three deer shot west of Madison in November 2001. The DNR has documented 1,283 cases statewide so far this year after testing 16,165 samples. That’s 8% of all tests, which is similar to 2020’s rate.

CWD sampling declined this past fall, with 2,749 fewer samples (-14.5%) statewide than in 2020 (18,914). Most samples come from the DNR’s southern farmland zone, where sampling fell 22% from 9,382 a year ago to 7,277.

Despite the decline, 1,234 deer (17%) have tested positive so far in that zone, which is 4 percentage points lower than the 2020 total. For perspective, when the DNR tested similar numbers (7,097 deer) in the Southern farmlands in 2010, it found 219 (3%) CWD cases, or 5.6 times fewer doomed deer.

Elsewhere, CWD cases more than doubled from 19 to 39 in central Wisconsin’s farmlands this year, accounting for 40% of the zone’s historical total of 98 cases. In addition, deer baiting is now banned in 58 Wisconsin counties. The 14 counties where the controversial practice remains are Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Iron, Sawyer, Rusk, Price, St. Croix, Pierce, Lincoln, Brown, Manitowoc, Kewaunee and Door.

Iowa County again leads the state with 315 cases this year, or 31% of the 1,026 samples provided. Next was Richland, 270 cases (21% positive); Sauk, 222 (25%); Dane, 151 (17%); Grant, 80 (14%); and Columbia, 72 (15%).

Cooperation from hunters remains poor as indifference reigns. In Sauk County, hunters tested only 15% of the 6,002 deer they registered during the 2021 gun, crossbow and archery seasons. Further, Dane County hunters tested 23.5% of 3,833 registered deer; Richland County, 24% of 5,228; Iowa County, 28% of 3,607; Grant County, 0.09% of 6,176; and Columbia County, 0.08% of 6,007.

A soon-to-be released DNR survey from 2019 also found that 70% of Wisconsin hunters have never submitted a deer for CWD testing. The survey also found that 33% of hunters who get their deer tested don’t wait for results before eating it.

Despite such dismal numbers, GOP lawmakers are ignoring the mess by distracting everyone with the Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Act. This bag of stale air from the Kansas-based group Hunter Nation doesn’t even mention CWD.

We pause here to ask, “Sporting Freedom Act”? What is that? Do politicians think they can just insert “freedom” in a bill’s title, and we’ll snap to attention and salute? As silly as “freedom fries” sounded in February 2003, at least the word choice made sense. You’ll recall folks were mad at France for not supporting the war in Iraq, and urged restaurants to purge “French” from their menus.

Again I ask: Sporting Freedom Act? Freedom from what? Science? Biology? A future for deer hunting in Wisconsin?

If you think that’s harsh, explain how mandating the annual raising and releasing of 200,000 pheasants and 100,000 brook trout is relevant to liberty and freedom, or wise fish and wildlife management?

And how about the act’s “turkey hunting simplification” bill? Luke Hilgemann, CEO/president of Hunter Nation, recently wrote that our current spring turkey season confuses Wisconsin hunters. Really? Name someone who’s puzzled. True, our current season of six weeklong hunting periods might baffle your average lobbyist, state senator, assembly-creature, and Gov. Scott Walker’s four appointees to the Natural Resources Board. But Wisconsin’s spring season wins praise from 70% to 80% of turkey hunters surveyed annually.

Another bill in the “Freedom Act” infuriates many retired conservation wardens and the Wisconsin Hunter Education Instructor Association. The Mentored Hunt Bill (SB-611 and AB-670) would allow beginning hunters to earn their hunter-education certificate by simply taking an online course and then going afield with a licensed adult hunter, not a certified instructor.

Yes, that shortcut was allowed the past year because of COVID-19, and it sounded OK the first time I read it, but I was wrong. It doesn’t deserve our Legislature’s permanent blessing.

Hilgemann also recently wrote: “Hunting … in Wisconsin is a sacred tradition (and the Freedom Act sends) a strong message about our heritage and way of life. Not only does the Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Act reform rules for hunters and anglers, it helps ensure that future generations still have access to the resources that help these sacred traditions thrive through proactive resource management.”

Huh? You’ll find more substance in a bag of cheetos. Hunter Nation and its GOP backers insult Wisconsin’s hunting heritage by ignoring all the work of recent decades that made hunting so safe.

The WHEIA notes that conservation wardens annually investigated 174 hunting accidents, including 17 deaths, from 1956 to 1966 in Wisconsin. The state’s hunter education program began in 1967. Since then, over 17,000 volunteer instructors helped reduce those numbers to an annual average of 21 accidents and 1.8 deaths.

Y’know, we don’t need Hunter Nation messing with our programs. It’s time GOP lawmakers stop frolicking with these amateurs and get serious about addressing CWD and other obvious challenges to our natural resources.

That won’t happen, however, if hunters, anglers and trappers don’t hold lawmakers accountable with emails, letters, phone calls and votes.

Hunter Nation exposed this Legislature’s scarcity of thinkers and leaders. They must be told what to do.


Graphic Design “Ally of the Grey Wolf” by Rachel Tilseth

Movie Review: “The Wolf and the Lion”

The Wolf and the Lion” in theaters February 4, 2022.

A wolf pup and a lost lion cub are rescued by a girl in the heart of the Canadian wilderness. Their friendship will change their lives forever.

Film plot: A headstrong music student from New York who attends her grandfather’s funeral on a remote Canadian island and unexpectedly discovers a lost lion cub who had been destined for the Vancouver circus, before also rescuing an endangered, female wolf who is being pursued by researchers. At Alma’s cabin, the wolf gives birth to a single cub, Mozart, who immediately bonds with the rescued lion cub, Dreamer. The wolf mother is soon captured and Alma is left to tend to the babies. But their world soon collapses as Mozart and Dreamer are captured and separated, and must embark on a treacherous journey to be reunited as Alma also searches for them.

Staring Molly Kunz and Graham Greene

Release date: February 4, 2022 (USA), Director: Gilles de Maistre, Producers: Gilles de Maistre, Jacques Perrin, Catherine Camborde, Valentine Perrin, Claude Léger, Jonathan Vanger, Nicolas Elghozi, Sylvain Proulx, Screenplay: Gilles de Maistre, Prune de Maistre, Story by: Gilles de Maistre, Prune de Maistre

Animal Stars trained at Instinct, Animals For Film

An Unlikely Friendship. An Incredible Adventure.

“The Wolf and the Lion is a glimmer of hope! I’m looking forward to seeing this film because it’s been a rough year for America’s wild grey wolf and those allies that fight passionately for them.” Rachel Tilseth, author at Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin

“Everyone in the world needs in these dark times a dream of hope, a fairy tale that brings light back into the hearts of those who care for wild animals and Nature. We hope to see the film soon in Italy too!” Brunella Pernigotti, author at Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin

This film could not come at a better time. Stories like these serve to remind us of our shared existence which is at once a responsibility and a privilege. No doubt, the Wolf and the Lion will bring some much needed hope to us all! —
Manish N. Bhatt, Esq., author at Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin

A Walk in the Woods

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach”

– W.E.B. Dubois

A walk in the woods is therapeutic, doing so with a child adds inspiration. I have been fortunate that my wife and I have enjoyed a lot of time in the woods with our daughter – long before she could walk. Her earliest naps were in the fresh air and included long slumbers in a hiking backpack chair. Whether it is looking for butterflies, snakes, raptors or insects, a simple stroll off the concrete immediately turns into an adventure with real and make-believe characters. 

Being outside with a child has taught me to be more mindful – to focus on the journey not the destination. A one mile out-and-back hike might take more than the short time I had budgeted but leaves us with many hours of opportunity to discuss what we saw and how it behaved. As our daughter has grown, we have become more intentional about exposing her to new environments beyond the local hiking trails. During a recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee side), our three year old taught us to look beyond what we saw and ask “why aren’t we seeing more?” 

Photo taken by the author near Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Our trip began on a crisp weekday morning a week before Thanksgiving celebrations here in the U.S. We exited our rented cabin and traveled to the closest Visitor Center.  We hoped to meet a park ranger – who our daughter reveres. Due to COVID, we had to wait a short while to enter the Visitor Center but we were able to gather some hiking maps and checked trail conditions. We were ready to begin our day exploring the park. We did not have anything big planned beyond some short hikes, nature viewing and a picnic lunch.

On our way back to our car we were greeted by a park volunteer and our daughter immediately engaged in conversation.  She explained that we were on the lookout for the park’s wildlife – bears, elk, snakes, birds and wolves. Wolves? Yes, our daughter equates the presence of elk with wolves due to having spent a year living in the Northern Rockies. The volunteer politely explained that wolves no longer lived in the park but that there were plenty of other animals to see, if we were lucky.

I noted an immediate change in our child. She went from exuberant to pensive – even sad. Why were there no wolves in the park? Where did they go? Were they coming back? She did not hesitate to ask these questions to the volunteer who responded that “all of the wolves had been hunted” and there were no longer any wolves inside the park. The question “why?” from a toddler is both an expression of incredulity and an invitation to join in a never ending conversation.  In this case, our daughter could not understand why humans had extirpated wolves from a place that seemed perfect for them to live. 

Hoping to put that sadness behind us we went on a hike. We did not see a bear or a raptor but we did continue our conversation about the wolves. Our daughter asked me again why people had hunted all of the wolves? Why would we make them go away? I tried to explain that man has not always coexisted with nature in a peaceful manner. We often do not understand the balance that nature requires. As we walked and talked the conversation grew, our daughter’s frustration heightened and the question “why?” kept arising. As we turned around to walk back to the trailhead we saw a pickup truck driving on the trail – it was a park ranger. 

…our three year old taught us to look beyond what we saw and ask “why aren’t we seeing more?” 

The ranger stopped and asked how we were doing. My daughter responded, “why are you driving a truck on this trail?” The ranger smiled and answered, “ because I work here.” Seeing an opportunity to learn more about the disappearance of wolves our daughter did not hesitate to ask “ok, then why did you let all of the wolves get hunted?”  The ranger was wide-eyed. Frankly, I would have been too. What was intended to be a genuinely kind interaction with the public turned into an interrogation by a three year old. The ranger politely answered that wolves left many decades ago then gave us another smile and went on her way. My daughter was not satisfied but she understood. She looked at me and said “Papa, I am going to save the wolves, I am going to bring them back.” I asked how she planned to do that. She replied, “I’ll go back to Wyoming and pick up a few and bring them here.” Some may say this is a three year old’s uninformed reintroduction plan though I am sure many said the same when it was suggested that we reintroduce Canadian wolves to the U.S. Northern Rockies.

Our trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park was amazing and to this day our daughter mentions the wolves and the need to save them. She taught me that I cannot simply accept the reality that wolves once lived in a place, but that I need to be an active force to make sure that the wolf is protected, able to thrive, and coexist with us. In essence, my young daughter reminded me that I need to be an ally for the wolf, for in doing so I will be an ally for our environment.  She believes, and I agree, that our world is better with wolves on the landscape.

Children are wise beyond their years and not anchored with the pessimism or cynicism of adults. Through my work with and for the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, I hope to grow into an empathetic voice for wolves. I also hope to engage in meaningful conversations with those that disagree with me or share a different worldview. Most of all, I hope that my daughter sees her father working to protect what we both love. If I want my daughter to be a caretaker of this world, I need to be one now for she will learn more from what I am than what I teach her. 

Sources Consulted: 

National Park Service. “Animals.” Accessed January 08, 2022. https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/animals.htm

National Park Service. “Mammals.” Accessed January 08, 2022. https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/mammals.htm

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Gray Wolf.” Accessed January 08, 2022. https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/4488

Wheeler, Timothy B. “Effort to Return Red Wolves to Great Smoky Mountains Ends in Failure.” Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1998. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1998-dec-13-mn-53449-story.html?_amp=true

 

 

 

“Ally of the Grey Wolf”

%d bloggers like this: