Tag Archives: Gray wolf delisting

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Reports Increased Gray Wolf Numbers but Threats to Recovery Loom Ahead

Photo by John E. Marriott

Last week, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported a 13% increase in the number of wolves in the state over the last year, bringing the estimated total to just over 1000.

The annual count, from April 2019 to April 2020, is primarily conducted over the winter when tracking is easier because of snow. However, summer howl surveys, observation reports, territory mapping, and telemetry techniques are also used to estimate populations.

This year, the DNR added a patch occupancy modelling technique to its methods for counting wolves. This strategy uses repeated detections to come up with a probable average. The signs include actual wolf sightings, markings of wolves like scat and paw prints, and photos.

Data is mostly gathered by DNR staff and volunteers. For decades, the DNR has partnered with the Timber Wolf Alliance and the Timber Wolf Information Network to include the public in wolf count surveys. In addition, outdoor enthusiasts also submit their findings to the DNR.

Out of 313 wolf observations, about a third were verified. And out of 328 photo sequences, a little more than half were verified. The DNR includes both verified and probable data sets to come up with its numbers. The total results in an average.

What the new technique lacks in preciseness it makes up for in ease and affordability. That may be great for the DNR but it might not play out well for wolves.

In states where this model is currently used like Idaho and Montana, large estimates are used to set aggressive hunting quotas that wipe out entire packs. The DNR will use these numbers to justify delisting, thus turning wolf management over to the states.

Rep. Tom Tiffany from Minocqua County is already doing just that. In theory, state management is good, but in practice it can be disastrous. In the three years that wolves were delisted in Wisconsin over 500 wolves were killed. In short, delisting is only appropriate if the state can resist the push to kill half its population.

Alas, state management and hunting have sadly been conflated to be almost symbolic of each other. They’re so entangled that Wisconsin is the only state the mandates a wolf hunt once federal protections are removed.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, ranchers should be able to protect their property by killing individuals that threaten their livestock, but killing for population management is cruel and ineffective. 

In fact, research by Adrian Treves has highlighted that indiscriminate killing can actually be counterintuitive. By killing experienced hunters like alphas, you leave young and inexperienced wolves to fend for themselves, which often means they turn to easy prey like livestock.

While knowing how many wolves are on the landscape is key to shaping policy and understanding wolf dynamics, the data is often used in nefarious ways to undermined wolf recovery under the guise of management, a term that’s hard to decouple from killing.

However, there is no biological reason that we need to hunt wolves. It serves no purpose other than to satisfy human bloodlust. Numerous studies, including one by Arian Wallach from Charles Darwin University, have shown that predators are capable of self-regulation. Things like habitat, available food, and environment all factor into population density.

The increase in wolves is worth celebrating for sure, but it’s what we do with those numbers that will really determine whether or not wolf recovery has been a success. If the numbers are used to justify killing lots of wolves, this isn’t a win, it’s a failure.

Delisting is appropriate when populations are healthy. Killing wolves based on a number count is not.

When federal protections are removed, hopefully the Wisconsin DNR will have a wolf recovery plan that reflects that.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Seeks Public Input on New Wolf Plan

Image by Steve Felberg from Pixabay

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hosting three live virtual open houses this fall to solicit feedback on the future of the state’s wolf management plan. Starting on September 29th, each meeting will target a different area of the state, beginning with the northwest.

While location-based participation is preferred, people from all over are invited to join. However, you must register before the sessions begin. Registration opens on September 21st and submitting questions in advanced is encouraged.

The open houses come on the heels of a wolf public attitudes survey that was conducted this summer by the DNR and the University of Minnesota. The survey showed overwhelming support for having wolves on the landscape, but there is a small minority who see them in a less favorable light, mainly ranchers and hunters.

With wolves set to lose federal endangered species protections by the end of this year, the state of Minnesota is in the process of crafting an updated version of their wolf management plan, which they hope to unveil sometime early next year. Wolves mean so many things to different people, so getting feedback from all stakeholders is key to having a plan that works for as many groups as possible.

“Discussions about wolves bring out opinions from a broad range of interests,” said Dan Stark, DNR wolf management specialist, on the DNR website. “These public meetings are part of a broader process to update the plan and give people an opportunity to share their views.”

The second and third meetings will be held on October 6th and 8th and will focus on Central and southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro area, and Northeastern Minnesota, respectively.

In addition to getting feedback from the public, the DNR is working with an advisory committee and a technical committee to help develop the new plan. Both groups include a diverse array of representatives ranging from advocacy groups to trapping associations.

These sessions will be another chance for the department to gauge interest and see where the public stands on wolves. More importantly, this will be a chance for the public to engage, in real time, with the folks who craft wolf policy in the state.

“We look forward to having a dialogue about wolves in Minnesota,” Stark said. “What people think about where and how many wolves we have, conflicts regarding livestock depredation, the interrelationship of wolf and prey species, and future wolf management options are all important topics.”

If you can’t make it, there will also be a public comment period from September 29th – November 1st.

For many wolf lovers, it is hoped that the increased opportunities for advocates and tribes to engage will mean a better outcome for wolves. The previous iteration leaned heavily on input from ranchers and hunters, which meant killing wolves for sport was the preferred management tool. Let’s hope this time they get it right.

A proposed Rule to Delist Gray Wolves Comment Period is Now Open: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior are accepting public comments that are specific as possible…

…Include in your comments information from scientific journals and or from best available scientific data. In other words, submissions merely stating support for, or opposition to, the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not meet the standard of best available scientific and commercial data.

Read further to find links to articles that support your comments.

A Proposed Rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service on 03/15/2019 We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before May 14, 2019.

Gray wolf advocates request public hearings, in writing, at the address shown by April 29, 2019: Don Morgan, Chief, Branch of Delisting and Foreign Species, Ecological Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Headquarters Office, MS: ES, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803; telephone (703) 358-2444. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

We (Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior) intend that any final action resulting from this proposal will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and will be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from the public, concerned Tribal and governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. Comments should be as specific as possible.

As this proposal replaces our June 13, 2013, proposal to delist gray wolves in the lower 48 United States and Mexico (78 FR 35663), we ask that any comments previously submitted that are relevant to the status of wolves currently listed in the contiguous United States and Mexico, as analyzed in this rule, be resubmitted at this time. Comments must be submitted during the comment period for this proposed rule to be considered.

Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include.

The following are links to articles that support your comments.

In the United States, data show that wolves (Canis lupus, Canis lupus baileiy and Canis rufus) kill few cattle and sheep. (click on the highlighted words to view scientific data)

Killing wolves to prevent predation on livestock may protect one farm but harm neighbors (click on the highlighted words to view scientific data)

Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or opposition to, the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not meet the standard of best available scientific and commercial data. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is threatened or endangered must be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.

You may submit comments by one of the following methods:

(1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0097, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on the blue “Comment Now!” box. If your comments will fit in the provided comment box, please use this feature of http://www.regulations.gov, as it is most compatible with our comment review procedures. If you attach your comments as a separate document, our preferred file format is Microsoft Word. If you attach multiple comments (such as form letters), our preferred format is a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.

(2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0097; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see Public Comments below for more information).

Is Wisconsin’s management of wolves responsible?

A good case study for state management is Wisconsin between 2012 – 2014. In those two years 528 wolves were legally killed. These harvests aren’t based on science and often hurt wolf populations by breaking up packs and orphaning young. Yet these forms of management are still considered standard practice for state wildlife agencies.

Beyond highlighting unethical management practices, the workshop drove home a constant theme – wolves are not the monsters we make them out to be. A lot of our fears about wolves are based on anachronist folklore that has no place in the 21stcentury. For instance, far from being rapacious killers who deplete game populations, wolves actually help keep herds healthy by preying on the sick, the old, and the weak. A graph documenting wolf predation reflected this, with the ages of kills being mostly very old and very young. Also, the impact on livestock is overblown. Of Wisconsin’s 1.5 million dairy cows and beef cattle, the WDNR confirmed 24 wolf kills in 2018.

The hysteria around wolves is largely pushed by farmers and hunters who loathe predators – wolves, coyotes, bears, lions – and that’s terrible for conservation efforts. These two groups pump millions of dollars into state wildlife management through hunting and trapping licenses, and hunting related sales taxes. This has lead to a prioritization of policies that favor these two groups at the expense of non-game species.

Out of all the states that hunt wolves, only Wisconsin allows hound hunters to use unleashed packs of dogs to hunt wolves. Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to the wolves.”Hound hunters traditionally train their dogs to focus on specific prey by releasing their dogs to surround, attack and terrorize a prey animal (e.g. a bear cub or fox) for hours on end (up to 16 hours/day) enclosed in a small, open barrel or “roll cage.” At this point it remains disturbingly unclear as to how hound hunters will train their dogs to pursue wolves instead of other animals—will it be by capturing wolves and allowing their dogs to attack them in barrels and pens? How isn’t this worse than illegal dog fighting?

During the 2016 Wisconsin bear hunting season 37 hunting dogs were lost in the pursuit of bear. A few Wisconsin legislators claim these deaths were due to the high wolf population of 866 in 2016, but there’s a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye.  Adrian Wydeven, former Wisconsin DNR Head Wolf biologist, wrote in a opinion editorial, “Numbers don’t add up in wolf-hound debate” written on November 12, 2016 and suggested that:

“Do wolf numbers correlate with wolves killing hounds? The evidence suggests this might not necessarily be the case. In 2012, only seven dogs were killed and yet there were nearly as many wolves in 2012 as there were in 2016 (815 wolves in late winter 2012).” Source

There were 52 wolf depredations from April 15, 2016 through April 15, 2016. To put it in perspective, that was 52 livestock deaths by wolves out of 3.50 million head of livestock in Wisconsin. Read for yourself:

“The total inventory of cattle and calves on January 1 rose 3 percent from 2014 to 2015, to 3.50 million head. The number of milk cows rose by 5,000 head to 1,275,000 head and the number of beef cows rose 25,000 head to 275,000 head. On the U.S. level, slaughter prices rose to $153.00 per cwt. for cattle and $255.00 per cwt. for calves. As a result, Wisconsin’s value of production rose 33 percent to $1.92 billion.”  Source: USDA Wisconsin statistics 

Wisconsin’s Record On Wolf Management 

Wisconsin became the only state to allow hound hunters to use unleashed packs of dogs to hunt wolves. Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to wolves in two of the three wolf hunts in 2013 & 2014. Wisconsin hunters killed 528 wolves in the three seasons a hunt was held in the state before the animal was placed back on the endangered species list. 

The Gray Wolf Monitoring Report done through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and can be found on their website estimates 905-944 wolves reside in Wisconsin’s northern & central forests. 

Livestock depredations included 29 cattle killed and 1 injured, and 4 sheep killed. The number of farms affected was the same as the previous monitoring year. That number doesn’t include depredations of hunting dogs.

In wolf management units 1, 2, and 5, considered to be primary wolf range and containing 80% of the minimum winter wolf count, deer density estimates increased 19% compared to 2016.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plans to propose a rule to “delist” the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the Lower 48 states. USF&WS is required to hold a public comment period on this ruling.  This comment period is now open.

If delisting does occur in Wisconsin, my hope is that with the new WDNR Secretary in place, the required wolf management plan will include greater transparency allowing for public input in how the Gray wolf is managed. And that the public will speak up against a trophy hunt on gray wolves.

There hasn’t been a wolf hunt since 2014. The Gray wolf is thriving on Wisconsin’s landscape, the wolf population is exhibiting signs of self-regulating, Gray wolves and White-tailed deer are benefiting each other once again, and livestock depredations aren’t a major threat.

A Proposed Rule by the Fish and Wildlife Service on 03/15/2019 We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before May 14, 2019. Take Action to protect Gray wolves & Wisconsin and across the U.S.!

Media Release: Federal Wildlife Officials Propose Lifting Endangered Species Act Protections For Gray Wolves in the Lower 48 States

The announcement was made on Wednesday by Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The move would return management to the states and tribes, which would reinstate Wisconsin’s wolf hunt that began in 2012.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plans to propose a rule to “delist” the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the Lower 48 states.

Wisconsin’s Record On Wolf Management

Wisconsin became the only state to allow hound hunters to use unleashed packs of dogs to hunt wolves. Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to wolves in two of the three wolf hunts in 2013 & 2014. Wisconsin hunters killed 528 wolves in the three seasons a hunt was held in the state before the animal was placed back on the endangered species list.

The Gray Wolf Monitoring Report done through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and can be found on their website estimates 905-944 wolves reside in Wisconsin’s northern & central forests.

Livestock depredations included 29 cattle killed and 1 injured, and 4 sheep killed. The number of farms affected was the same as the previous monitoring year. That number doesn’t include depredations of hunting dogs.

In wolf management units 1, 2, and 5, considered to be primary wolf range and containing 80% of the minimum winter wolf count, deer density estimates increased 19% compared to 2016.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plans to propose a rule to “delist” the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the Lower 48 states. USF&WS is required to hold a public comment period on this ruling.

If delisting does occur in Wisconsin, my hope is that with the new WDNR Secretary in place, the required wolf management plan will include greater transparency allowing for public input in how the Gray wolf is managed.

There hasn’t been a wolf hunt since 2014. The Gray wolf is thriving on Wisconsin’s landscape, the wolf population is exhibiting signs of self-regulating, Gray wolves and White-tailed deer are benefiting each other once again, and livestock depredations aren’t a major threat.