The Wisconsin Story

It all began in the early 1990s on a wolf howl survey near Clam Lake, Wisconsin. when I met Adrian Wydeven, the Wisconsin Wolf Recovery Program Head Biologist, Later I became a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Winter Wolf/Carnivore Tracker under the guidance of Adrian Wydeven. I helped monitor Wisconsin’s wild wolf. I monitored two gray wolf packs in Douglas county Wisconsin, hence that’s the name of this film company. I came to know one of the alpha females, and admired her for her tenacity! She successfully reared nine generations of wolf pups before being hit and killed by a vehicle in 2009. I drew an oil pastel portrait of the alpha female I came to know and admire, “White Eyes” and this drawing has become the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin Films’ logo. Then, in the year 2011 gray wolves were delisted in the Great Lakes, and Wisconsin Legislature mandated a wolf hunt. I got political in order to draw attention to the Wolves in Douglas county Wisconsin. I created this website. Wisconsin became the only state that hunted wolves, to allow the barbaric & cruel use of dogs to track and trail wolves. I voiced concern about this cruelty towards gray wolves, that are highly social animals, that went from protection on the ESL, to being hunted for a trophy mount or a fireplace rug. I couldn’t fathom how fast wolf management deteriorated right after they were delisted.

Wisconsin Gray wolf track.

Wisconsin began a campaign towards gray wolves that resembled the dark ages of 13th century. Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers harvested 257 wolves during the 2013-14 season. This was a 119% increase from the 2012-13 harvest of 117 wolves. The 2013-14 harvest was comprised of 134 males and 123 females. Of the 257 wolves harvested, trapping with foothold traps accounted for 180 (70.0%), 77 (30.0%) wolves were harvested by hunters. Of the 77 wolves harvested by hunters, 35 (13.6%) were hunted with the aid of dogs. One wolf was harvested with archery equipment; firearm was the method of harvest for all other animals (table 3). No wolves were harvested with the use of cable restraints. WDNR Wolf Harvest Reports.

I went from helping wolves to recover to a rescue operation. A rescue operation from the barbaric Wolf-Hounding. I approached the press and began to draw attention to the wolf hunts.

Rachel Tilseth of the animal education group Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin says it’s vital that independent experts can now verify that dogs didn’t illegally fight with wolves.

“I’d like to have those wolves examined by an independent veterinarian,” says Tilseth. “This is a very controversial subject – this wolf-hounding – and I believe we need to see all the evidence.”

Tilseth says she’ll continue to try to get dogs banned from future Wisconsin wolf hunts. Republican lawmakers have refused to allow a hearing on a recently introduced bill ordering such a ban. WPR 2013 reposted on Exposing the Big Game.

Thankfully on December 19th 2014 good news broke that a federal judge ordered wolves returned to the protection of the Endangered Species List. It was a welcomed reprieve from the mismanagement under governor Scott Walker’s administration. It’s been a constant battle, one attempt after another to delist wolves. I’ve lost count, but could guess it’s been at least two attempts per year since December 2014. It’s now 2019 and wolves are still listed! Thanks to the efforts of thousands of advocates!
This year I formed a film company. The current film project is in production. I wanted to tell the stories of wolf advocates that I’ve met over the last 8 years! Adrian Wydeven always said, “people either love or hate the wolf.” It’s too bad a middle ground hasn’t been found yet in Wisconsin. Buts there’s hope because that’s what the film company is all about.

WODCW is a Film Company producing film projects that inspire change through environmental education and legislation. Gray wolves are recovering on a worldwide landscape, our films, involve a global audience. We connect and engage viewers with filmmakers dedicated to documenting the precarious relationships between advocates and Gray wolves.

We view the need for people to meaningfully engage with its wild wolves that are now struggling for survival worldwide.

To support this effort, we maintain a network of subject matter experts in film producers, scientists, academics, as well as other advocates who share a common interest to advocate, produce and share educational stories of people and Gray wolves.

The following stories are about the Wisconsin Story.

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March 2019
By Lindsey Botts

Long maligned in folklore, wolves have an image problem that has hindered conservation efforts since their recovery. Just last week, the Trump administration announced that it will move forward with delisting the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law that affords legal safeguards for at risk species and their habitats.

Until 2011, congressional attempts to remove protections for wolves were blocked by the courts. That changed, however, when two Western Senators, from Montana and Idaho, slipped a provision into the Federal Spending Bill (a measure called a “rider”) that stripped wolves of federal protections. In doing so, they circumvented the courts and escaped judicial review. Since then, there have been over 350 legislative attacks that would undermine species specific laws or erode provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) entirely.

Sean Duffy, representative for Wisconsin’s 7th district, was the latest to go after wolf protections by slipping a rider into an appropriations bill that passed the House last autumn. His bill, like the ones before it, proposed removing federal protection for wolves and barred judicial review.

As a conservation enthusiast, I wanted to know more about the plight of wolves and decided to visit Duffy’s district this past winter to learn about the dynamics affecting wolf policy in the area. 

My timing was perfect. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) invites members of the public (citizen scientists) to join their volunteer tracking program every winter to help gather data about wolf populations, distribution, and breeding.

There are two organizations that are listed as WDNR partners for conducting surveys – the Timber Wolf Information Network (TWIN) and the Timber Wolf Alliance. Together they help track and monitor the 900 or so wolves that inhabit Wisconsin.

But only TWIN offered an immersive workshop, combined with a mini-tracking session, where I might have been able to see a wolf. Having fantasies of chasing wolves through the woods, I was sold and soon found myself booking a trip to Wisconsin’s Sandhill Wildlife Area where TWIN was hosting its third and last workshop of the season.

The workshops, led by veteran wolf biologist Dick Theil (Wisconsin’s first wolf biologist), his brother Scott Theil, and Bob Welch, are like Wolf 101 for non-scientists. Decked out in rugged style field coats, retro trapper caps, and snow boots, the trio of instructors looked more like explorers than teachers. For the past 30 years, they have brought the public closer to wolves from their Sandhill base.

I arrived exhausted from my journey, but excited to finally be among the white pine and aspen trees for which this area is famous. The air was crisp, and the sounds of the forest immediately made me feel more connected to nature. 

Entering the main building, I was met by the glass-eyed gazes of what appeared to be every native species and then some. The taxidermy made me question whether I was in the right place, but I was relieved when I heard they were all victims of accidental or natural death. 

The first day was a marathon of wolf history from the ice age up until European settlement, when Westward expansion pushed wolves to the brink of extinction. My group of two dozen was captivated by giant wolf skulls, tales of necropsies, and personal stories of wolf recovery in the area. 

By the second day, we were eager to get into the field. We saw lots of critter signs, but wolf sightings were nil. We did, however, see other telltale signs that they were in the area. Our group was giddy with excitement when we saw the yellow staining of raised-leg urination and even more so after seeing the droplets of blood left by a female in heat, both clear indications that wolves had passed through. 

As I listened to the instructors, two opposing views constantly butted against each other – one fighting for tradition and property rights, and the other for progress and the rights of wildlife. Opponents of endangered species protections for wolves want management returned to the states. Their argument is that wolves have recovered and thus no longer need federal protections. But wolf advocates counter that it’s these very protections that have allowed the fragile populations to bounce back. Without them, wolves are slaughtered, as witnessed in states where protection have been removed. 

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 21st century. 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. 

Such favoritism flies in the face of the public trust doctrine which states that federal agencies should protect our wild spaces for the enjoyment of all, not just a select few. Also, by catering to special interest groups, state wildlife management agencies exclude a large portion of the population who enjoy wildlife for its intrinsic value in a non-consumptive form – naturalists, scientists, wildlife enthusiasts, and photographers. 

Because of this disparity in viewpoints, consensus on what wolf conservation should look is rare. From our discussions, it would seem that holistic approaches to management, where the interest of multiple stakeholders is considered, might be the only way forward. Wolves are thriving where ranchers have developed non-lethal forms of deterrents, conservationists have secured legal protections, and limited predator controls are allowed. This seems to be the sweet spot for wolf recovery today.

As I left Sandhill and headed towards the interstate, I reflected on how eye-opening the workshop was. It showed a world where wolves serve as guardians of the ecosystems they inhabit and are actually more like us than what I initially believed. They are highly social, sentient animals who value family structure, are devoted to each other, nurture their young, and mourn the loss of pack members. I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to visit this part of Wisconsin and to connect on some level with wolves. 

I thought about their future and what that would look like without the protections that have afforded them a second chance. If the states that have delisted wolves are any indication, it’s not looking good.

By Lindsey Botts

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November 18, 2018 news…

Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to the wolves. The barbaric act of Wolf-Hounding is legal in Wisconsin and is sanctioned when wolves are NOT listed on the Endangered Species List. In 2011 Wisconsin State Legislators backed by Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association rushed to create a law, Wisconsin Act 169, that mandated a wolf hunt because Gray wolves were about to be delisted. This law, Act 169 mandated a wolf hunt when gray wolves are not listed on the Endangered Species Act. Wisconsin law Act 169 orders the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to oversee a wolf hunt. In 2013 the brutal act of “wolf Hounding” began in Wisconsin. In 2013 & 2014 wolf hunters used dogs to track and trail wolves until a federal judge ordered them back under federal protection. Now it will start all over again if the senate’s version of H.R. 6784 calling for Gray wolf delisting in the lower 48 states and prevents any judicial review of the decision passes in the senate. Wisconsin’s Gray wolf could be delisted in 2019! Wisconsinites need to let Governor elect Tony Evers know about state law, Wisconsin Act 169, that sanctions the use of dogs to hunt wolves “Wolf Hounding” when wolves are not listed on the Endangered Species Act. You can reach Governor elect Tony Evers (here) at his transition website and he wants to hear from Wisconsinites!

About the photograph: This young Wisconsin Gray wolf lost his life to hound hunters in the last sanctioned wolf hunt to use dogs in 2014. On December 19, 2014 a Federal judge ordered gray wolves in the Great Lakes returned to the protection of the Endangered Species List. A little too late for this young Gray wolf being proudly displayed as a trophy for this Wisconsin hound hunter.

On Friday November 16, 2018 the House of Representatives, passed a bill, H.R.6784 – Manage our Wolves Act calling for Gray wolf delisting in the lower 48 states and prevents any judicial review of this bad legislative decision.  This bill now goes to the senate, but not likely to pass. However, the Senate could attach wolf delisting riders on budget bills. In Wisconsin we must become proactive before possible delisting, because; Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to the wolves. The barbaric act of Wolf-Hounding is legal in Wisconsin and is sanctioned when wolves are NOT listed on the Endangered Species List. We must change the law, and our new Governor could use his “line item veto power” to strike out parts of the Law, Act 169, that mandates wolf hunts.

In the photograph Wisconsin wolf hunters proudly display their trophy wolf taken by the use of dogs “Wolf Hounding” sanctioned by the Wisconsin State Legislation.

Under governor Scott Walker’s administration stripped the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of sciences & practiced a hush-hush policy that denied public access. But on November 6th 2018 Wisconsinites elected a new Governor Tony Evers!Governor elect a Tony Evers will take office on January 7, 2019. Wolf advocates take action and let Governor elect Tony Evers know about state law, Wisconsin Act 169, that sanctions the use of dogs to hunt wolves “Wolf Hounding” when wolves are not listed on the Endangered Species Act. You can reach Governor elect Tony Evers (here) at his transition website and he wants to hear from Wisconsinites! Please share this blog about the barbaric act of “Wolf Hounding” with the Governor elect Tony Evers!

 “There has never been a more important time for the people of Wisconsin to show they are not going to give in to a small group of people that want to torture animals for fun under the guise of “sport.”  ~Rachel Tilseth

The following is a wolf hounding fact sheet:

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

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, charged with overseeing the wolf hunt, has no rules in place that require hound handlers to report dogs injured or killed in the pursuit of wolves during a hunt. In fact, there is no monitoring or certification program whatsoever in place for the use of dogs in the wolf hunt; thus the state has little ability to hold hound hunters accountable for training or hunting violations or to prevent deadly and inhumane wolf-dog confrontations (e.g., hunters allowing dogs to overtake and kill rifle-shot wolves). These circumstances explain why Wisconsin stands alone: using dogs to hunt wolves is no better than state-sponsored dog fighting.

Two wolves were taken by the use of dogs on December 6, 2013.

Hound handlers are equipped with high tech radio telemetry devices that allow them to track GPS-collared hunting dogs from long distances. They are often not able to catch up to hounds that have a wolf at bay to prevent deadly fights between dogs and wolves. As proof of this, to date, Wisconsin has paid nearly $500,000 to “reimburse” hound-hunters for hunting dogs injured or killed by wolves. See link WDNR Dog depredations by wolves

Wisconsin, quite literally, throws “dogs to the wolves.”

According to DNR regulations, hound handlers are only allowed to use up to six dogs at a time to trail wolves. But handlers often replace tired dogs with fresh ones and younger dogs. It is common for a handler to be unable to retrieve the tired dogs, and end up with up well over 6 dogs chasing one wolf, potentially twice or even three times as many. There is no monitoring system in place to ensure that only 6 dogs pursue wolves.

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.  ~Aristotle

*Wolf hunters are not reimbursed when wolves kill dog/dogs while in pursuit of wolves, but are when in pursuit of bear.  

Join Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin’s campaign to end Wolf Hounding

 Contact us wolvesdouglasco@gmail.com

TAKE ACTION: contact Wisconsin Governor Elect Tony Evers (click here)  and make it clear you do not sanction Wolf Hounding in Wisconsin!

The Wisconsin legislature sanctioned “Wolf Hounding ” with 2011 Wisconsin Act 169 that allows the use of dogs to track and trail wolves. 2011 Wisconsin Act 169

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July 2018 news…

Vehicle collisions (39%) and illegal kills (19%) were the leading causes of death for detected mortalities and were similar to the rates detected the previous year.

The Wisconsin Gray Wolf Monitoring Report describes wolf management and monitoring activities conducted in Wisconsin during the wolf monitoring year, April 15th, 2017 to April 14th, 2018. Gray wolves (Canis lupus) reverted to federally endangered status in the Western Great Lakes region as the result of a federal court decision in December 2014. They have been in this status for the entire monitoring period. The Gray Wolf Monitoring Report done through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and can be found on their website.

Statewide continuous wolf pack range was estimated to be 23,687 mi2 in northern and central forested regions of Wisconsin. Using the 2018 minimum population count of 905-944 wolves, wolf density is estimated to be 1 wolf per 25.1 to 26.2 mi2 of contiguous wolf range, calculated by dividing contiguous wolf range by the minimum population count range according to the report.

Figure 5 Wisconsin Wolf Monitoring Report WDNR Website

Wolf population monitoring was conducted using a territory mapping with telemetry technique, summer howl surveys, winter snow track surveys, recovery of dead wolves, depredation investigations, and collection of public observation reports.

A total of 36 wolf mortalities were detected during the monitoring period. Detected mortalities represented 4% of the minimum 2016-2017 late winter count of 925- 952 wolves.

Wolf mortality was monitored through field observation and mandatory reporting of control mortalities. Cause of death for wolves reported dead in the field was determined through field investigation or by necropsy when illegal activity was suspected or where cause of death was not evident during field investigation. A total of 36 wolf mortalities were detected during the monitoring period. Detected mortalities represented 4% of the minimum 2016-2017 late winter count of 925- 952 wolves according to the report.

Vehicle collisions (39%) and illegal kills (19%) were the leading causes of death for detected mortalities and were similar to the rates detected the previous year. Human caused mortality represented 72% of known cause detected mortalities overall. [for more details click here]

Eleven collared wolves died during the monitoring period. All were being actively monitored at the time of death (Table 5). Cause of death could not be determined for 3 collared wolves. For the 8 where cause of death could be determined, 3 (38%) were illegally killed, 2 (25%) were killed by vehicle collision, 1 likely died as a result of capture related myopathy, 1 died as a result of disease, and 1 apparently died as a result of intraspecific strife.

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.

Wolf depredation incidents were investigated by United States Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services. During the monitoring period, Wildlife Services confirmed 59 wolf complaints of the 103 investigated (Figure 6).

Table 6 Wisconsin Wolf Monitoring Report

Unconfirmed complaints were either confirmed to be due to causes other than wolves or lacked sufficient evidence to attribute a cause. Thirty-one incidents of wolf depredation to livestock and 6 incidents of wolf threat to livestock were confirmed on 31 different farms during the monitoring period (Table 6). This included 13 of 34 farms classified as chronic wolf depredation farms (38%). 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 (Figure 7).

Twenty incidents of non-livestock depredation and 2 incidents of non-livestock threats were confirmed during the monitoring period. his included 17 dogs killed and 10 injured while actively engaged in hunting activities, and 1 dog killed and 2 injured outside of hunting situations (Figure 8). This was a 55% decrease from 2016-17 when 44 incidents of non-livestock depredation were confirmed. Fifteen of seventeen (88%) of hunting dog incidents occurred between July 15th and October 1st. One incident occurred in January and 1 occurred in March.

Looking at the Figures 6 & 7 with years 2007 to 2018, there’s a marked decrease. This disproves the theory that wolf hunts, that took place in 2012, 2012 & 2014 would decrease wolf depredations on farms. In other words, wolf complaints have gone down as the wolf population stabilizes.

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.

Population monitoring and law enforcement efforts detected 7 wolves illegally killed within the monitoring period. Law enforcement staff conducted 4 wolf related investigations and issued 2 citations during the reporting period (Table 7).

White-tailed deer are the primary prey species for wolves in Wisconsin. Units used for monitoring Wisconsin deer are counties, or in some cases, partial counties. Counties were assigned to the wolf management unit that the majority of the county falls in to compare deer density changes in the wolf management units (Table 8). White-tailed deer density estimates increased 2% statewide from the previous year estimate (Stenglein, 2018). 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. New recommendations from the County Deer Advisory Councils for deer population objectives were approved by the Natural Resources Board in 2018. The current recommendations are more varied than the previous recommendations, but are still primarily to increase or maintain the deer population in each of the 6 wolf management units. There is no indication that prey density is, or will negatively impact the wolf population.

For the Full Report go to WISCONSIN GRAY WOLF MONITORING REPORT 15 APRIL 2017 THROUGH 14 APRIL 2018

The House Passed the Department of Interior funding bill, which includes language that would delist wolves throughout the lower 48 states and preclude legal challenges to delisting. And now is on its way to the senate.

And…In the Senate there’s Legislation being proposed that would rewrite the Endanered Species Act. Under Barrasso’s proposal, individual states would be given key authority over the federal program to conserve threatened and endangered species.

Here’s what you can do…

You can help stop this threat to the Endangered Species Act by contacting your senator. Click here for their contact information.

Here’s another way you can help. Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor (LTE), Writing a letter to the editor of your local or regional newspaper is the best way to reach a large audience with your message. Click here for more information on how to get involved.

Furthermore…

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has begun reviewing the status of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Working closely with federal, state, tribal and local partners, the Service will assess the currently listed gray wolf entities in the lower 48 states using the best available scientific information. If appropriate, the Service will publish a proposal to revise the wolf’s status in the Federal Register by the end of the calendar year. Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment.

Featured photograph credit: belongs to owner

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Join WODCW’s #GetInvolved Campaign to Show Support for the Endangered Species Act. Post your selfie today!

Your sign should say:

#GetInvolved

#StopExtinction

To my US Senate Representative,

No to rewriting the Endangered Species Act!

Then, send us your selfie with your name and state you are from and we will post it on our Facebook page: send to wolvesdouglasco@gmail.com