Keeping the wolf’s return on track
Wildlife expert Bob Welch and Dick Thiel started tracking the timber wolf in
almost 20 years ago. Back then, the big job was to prove the
elusive predator existed here.
At that time, in the early 1970’s, Wisconsin’s native wolf population had been
considered extinct for more than a decade. Some said the last wolf was killed in 1959.
“We were crossing 15-mile stretches of roadless terrain searching for wolf tracks in
severe winter temperatures”. Welch said. “We were sleeping under plastic on spruce
boughs, learning about northern Wisconsin survival techniques as well as searching these
remote areas for wolf sign.”
“For Thiel and Welch, college students with a grant, this usually involved finding wolf
tracks in the mud or snow and
photographing them. They also bagged pounds of wolf scat and searched miles for
abandoned logging roads for tufts of fur and urine stains marked with blood — as
evidence of breeding age female animals.
“We were even lucky enough one winter to discover an area were wolves had bedded
down,” Welch said. “and when they were sleeping their hair froze in a crust of snow, and
we were able to pull wolf hair of a wolf bed.”
The wolf’s ability to stay out of human sight is legendary.
Ron VanderVelden, an
environmental science teacher at Kaukauna High School, spent three days on snowshoes
with Thiel, who in the 1980s was
director of the DNR’s Wolf
They followed wolf tracks to a freshly killed deer without ever spotting the four-legged
hunters. On their trip out, they discovered wolf prints covering their
“The animals are wonderfully secretive, and they pose no threat to people at all,”
VanderVelden said. “I hope people realize that.”
The return of the wolf packs to Wisconsin in now well-documented, and a group of
people that include Thiel, Welch, and VanderVelden has formed an organization
preserving the wolf through
Called TWIN, for the Timber Wolf Information Network, the organization has
educational materials and workshops aimed at increasing public awareness about the
ecological role played by the wolf in its
It’s the workshops, these wolf trackers said, that are the most
fun. Just recently, almost 40 people signed up for a weekend
workshop conducted by TWIN at
the Treehaven Field Station
operated by the University of
Wisconsin — Stevens Point
outside of Tomahawk, WI.
The two-day workshops
include movies, slide
presentations and seminars.
There is a session on wolf ecology in which participants learn, among other skills, to
compute the age of prey, such as deer, by examining their skeletal remains.
There are demonstrations on life wolf trapping and radio telemetry, techniques used to
study the state’s small wolf
And then, on the second night, there is often an opportunity to engage in wolf howling,
the practice of howling at wolves and listening while they howl back at you.
“It always kind of makes the hair on your back stand up,” said Welch. “It’s exciting.”
VanderVelden said there are times when the response of the wolves is short and sharp,
as if to
say, “yeah, we’re here, leave us alone,” — perhaps because they are busy with a fresh
At other times, VanderVelden said. they will “sing “ for up to 20 minutes at a time.
“More than anything,” he said, “It literally sends shivers down your spine.”
The voices of the wolves heard at Treehaven belong to the
Averill Creek Wolf Pack in
Lincoln County. It is the southern-most wolf pack in the North American continent,
There are perhaps 10 other packs in the state, and the total number of wolves known to
live in Wisconsin is no greater than 40.
Welch believes that through public education, and good forestry management, up to 80
wolves could easily survive in the few remaining wild area left in the state.
“We’re basically re-starting this idea that citizens can get into the program, get hands-
on experience, and help shore up the program to preserve the wolf.
“Our main focus is education, primarily through reaching school children, but we see
that the general public can also be a major thrust. The human
resource is greatly overlooked”
VanderVelden said TWIN has come up with a “Wolf Lab Box.” which the organization
will make available to any teacher in the state[now and teacher in the USA] who wish to
The mini-lab includes 12 learning activities. One activity,
for instance, involves handling the skeletal jaw of a deer killed by wolves. The students
learn to age the deer and to draw
conclusion about the effect the wolf has on the deer population.
“Number one is to get the teachers excited about the wolf,” VanderVelden said. “And
I think all of us involved in TWIN, we got excited through field
TWIN also has a newsletter and an Adopt-a-Wolf Pack Program. in which people can provide financial assistance in return for a package of
materials that includes photographs, a videotape,a written history of the pack and a
periodic updates on the pack.
Welch said it is through
animals that have captured the
romance of the wolf in the public eye, that other endangered species get some relief.
“Of we don’t face the issue of the wolf,” Welch said, “we’re not going to face the issue
of the spotted salamander that no one cares about.”
VanderVelden said that although there are horror stories about the slaughter of wolves
and the depredation of the environment, there are also signs of recovery as well.
“The wolf is really a complex animal,” he said. “The more I’ve been involved with
the wolf, the more I’m learning — the more you learn about the future of various species.
It’s all closely intertwined with understanding the critters and educating the public.”
TWIN has already scheduled workshops for February and March. Welch said they
hope to conduct four workshops a year.
For information about TWIN, interested people can write to:
Waupaca Field Station, E110 Emmons Creek Road, Waupaca, WI 54981, or e-mail can
be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuthane, Ed. “Keeping the wolf’s return on track” The Appleton Post Crescent 29 Dec. 1990: Leisure