Dec 29

TWIN, Keeping the wolf’s return on track

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

snowshoe tracks.

“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

dedicated to

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

natural habitat.

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,

VanderVelden said.

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

use it.

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

newsletter with

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

Cuthane, Ed. “Keeping the wolf’s return on track” The Appleton Post Crescent 29 Dec. 1990: Leisure

For more information on becoming a TWIN member.

For more information on TWIN’s Wolf Ecology Workshops

For more information on TWIN’s Adopt-A-Wolf Pack Program



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