Board approves first Wisconsin wolf hunt amid calls for more scientific approach
Post by Christie Taylor on 7/18/2012 10:00am
The state Natural Resources Board voted unanimously to approve the Department of Natural Resource’s proposed emergency wolf hunt rule at its July meeting Tuesday.
The rule, which established a 201-wolf quota for the state and allowed for hunting with up to six dogs over a four-and-a-half month period beginning this October, is an emergency rule that Department Secretary Cathy Stepp has said will be revised and replaced within the next two years, following analysis of data from the first year.
The DNR proposes two primary areas for the hunt, in central and far northern Wisconsin, as well as a broader secondary zone that adds additional hunting grounds in the north (see map, and proposed hunting quota for each zone). The season will run from October 15 to the end of February, and, at four-and-a-half months, is the longest game animal season in the state except for cottontail rabbits.
In a statement released earlier in the month DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp called the initial harvest "conservative," and likely to increase in later years.
The state’s wolf population has recovered from virtual nonexistence in 1960 to more than 780 in the winter of 2011 and an estimated 880 in 213 packs as of this spring, more than double the state’s original goal of restoring the population to 350 wolves. In January they were removed from the state’s protected species list, which had previously prevented management strategies that included hunting. Republican lawmakers moved for a hunt to reduce instances of wolves preying on livestock.
On the day of the meeting--the final hurdle for the emergency rule--344 members of the public had registered comments with the board, only eight of which unilaterally supported the DNR proposal. The remainder were against either all or part of it, including representatives of the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, state Indian tribes, and University of Wisconsin scientists.
Hunting advocates and a representative of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation argued the 201-wolf quota was too conservative, however, and would result in an insufficient harvest.
A crowd of more than 100 was present Tuesday, and more than 40 people gave testimony prior to the vote. Howard Goldman, Minnesota Senior State Director for the U.S. Humane Society, said testimony stretched until about 2:30 in the afternoon. Goldman said he was opposed “entirely” to the proposal, saying that the wolf population was only stable at the moment, and state efforts should focus on reducing depredation rather than reducing wolf population.
A DNR memo (see attachment, page 17) on the state of the wolf population noted that as much as 23 to 34 percent of the population died each year due to illegal killing, licensed killing of problem animals, and vehicle collision. Combined with a 24 percent quota in the hunt, the department projects a human-caused mortality of between 46 and 57 percent.
Meanwhile, scientists cited in the same report said that wolf populations can tolerate only up to a 29 percent rate of human-caused mortality, a rate that has not been tested over long periods of time. Because of this activists worry the population will crash.
“That means a total of 480 wolves might die out of a population of 848,” Goldman said. “That’s a very high percentage in the first year. Those are the department’s own figures.
“My opinion was that leaves no room for error at all. They were protected for 38 years and just came off the endangered species list," he went on. “I had hoped there would be some further discussion. I was very disappointed.”
Goldman, though a Minnesota resident, has been active on wolf issues in Wisconsin for the past three years, and sits on the Wisconsin Wolf Stakeholders Committee as well. “Our organization is very concerned about the impact this will have on the pack,” Goldman said. “We will be watching this very closely.”
In fact, National Wolf Watcher Coalition representative Nancy Warren commented, the hunting law was introduced just days after the official delisting in January. Warren is the Great Lakes Director of the coalition, and testified on its behalf.
A resident of Ewen, Michigan, right by the Wisconsin border with the Upper Peninsula, Warren has been a wolf tracker since 1995, and while not a trained biologist, has spent those years in seminars and other educational settings learning about wolf behavior. She’s also educated hunters on wolves in the effort to reduce problems on both sides. And, she says, she sees problems with the physical areas the DNR has established for hunting.
For one, says Warren, the hunt includes the entire state, barring some Indian reservations. Killing wolves where there has been no depredation problem will only teach new wolves bad behavior, especially if new cubs--they’re about six months old in October, when the hunt starts--lose the adults that would have taught them how to hunt wild prey. The same goes for pregnant females, a concern as the hunt sprawls into the prime wolf breeding time, and packs disrupted by the loss of an alpha that might disperse and become roadkill.
Warren stressed that she wasn’t opposed to hunting wolves: just the lack of science she saw in the Wisconsin rules.
“The Natural Resources Board could have mitigated some of the risks involved here,” Warren says. “Instead, the wolf biologist for the state (DNR wolf expert Adrian Wydeven) wasn’t even called upon by the board.”
Lastly, she said, she saw a disconnect between the intent of the DNR hunt--to reduce the population to closer to an “arbitrary” 350--and the stated legislative intent.
“The legislature’s intent was to reduce depredation,” Warren says. “The DNR came out with their memo, though, and the main reason for the hunt, they said, was to reduce the population.”
Among these and other objections to the specifics of the proposal, UW-Madison ecologist Adrian Treves also filed a letter with the board. The Wisconsin State Journal reports Treves’ warned the wolf population was likely to be reduced enough to land it back on the endangered species list.
Stepp, however, has said the emergency rules were necessary to comply with timelines set by the Legislature’s law, Act 169, which left the DNR authority to set limits on how many licenses to issue and kills to allow, and which zones in which to allow it, but otherwise dictated most of the rest of the terms of the hunt.
“We were operating with some pretty tight timelines,” she said in a department press release Tuesday, calling the final rules “a good balance.” Permit applications will be accepted starting August 1, with a $100 fee for state residents and $500 for hunters from out of state. The state will issue about ten times as many licenses as the quota.
Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.