Pelican Lake wolves pack a video punch
Hunters get film of 13 in Oneida County
By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel
YouTube video: Gray wolves in Town of Pelican
Town of Pelican — Race Foster sat in his tree stand and watched in wonderment.
A few hundred yards away and across a boggy bottom, a grassy forest opening was bursting with animal action.
A group of large mammals had taken over. While most cavorted, raced and wrestled, at least two stood guard.
As best he could count, there were a baker’s dozen. Of this there was no doubt: They were gray wolves.
“It was a sight to behold,” said Foster, 53, of Hazelhurst. “We see the occasional wolf, but to see a pack of 13 was incredible.”
Foster was bear hunting on land he owns about 6 miles southeast of Rhinelander in Oneida County. He was joined by his son, Tristan. The date was Oct. 11.
Foster said he was transfixed by the spectacle of so many wolves in plain view. He watched the animals through binoculars for several minutes before Tristan pulled out a video camera and recorded the scene.
“Luckily Tristan remembered the camera, or we would have had to try to explain it in words,” Foster said.
The video is slightly more than 10 minutes and accompanied by wolf-themed soundtracks.
The footage allows a rare view of wolf behavior in a wild, Wisconsin landscape. As the pups race and play, at least one adult stands sentinel at the edge of the pack. Foster presented a copy of the video to Ron Eckstein, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist in Rhinelander.
According to Eckstein, the wolves are from the Pelican Lake pack. The video appears to show four adults and nine pups; at 13 individuals, it could be the largest pack in the state, Eckstein said.
As of late winter, the pack was listed as having just three wolves.
Wisconsin had a minimum of 690 to 733 wolves in late winter 2010, according to DNR estimates. The population has grown significantly over the last two decades; the animal is protected in Wisconsin under the federal Endangered Species Act.
According to the DNR, the state has at least 181 wolf packs in 21 northern and 12 central Wisconsin counties. The average pack size before this breeding season ranged from 3.5 to 4.2 animals.
Several Wisconsin packs were confirmed to have nine wolves in late winter. The DNR conducts its population estimates in winter, when animals are easier to track and observe.
Foster, an avid deer hunter, has owned the Town of Pelican property for 20 years. He said he has observed the deer population decline in recent years but primarily attributes it to DNR deer management strategies that resulted in high harvests of antlerless deer.
“I don’t blame the wolves,” Foster said. “I support responsible wolf management plans, but I think the woods are better with wolves in them than without them.”
To help deer herds recover in parts of the state, the DNR is prohibiting antlerless deer harvest this season in several deer management units, including the Rhinelander area With the wolf protected by the ESA, the state is limited in the amount of control it can perform on depredating wolves.
However six wolves out of a Jackson County pack of nine were killed by USDA-Wildlife Services personnel earlier this month after they had shown threats to human safety. The pack also killed or injured a number of dogs, including a beagle near a house and a German shorthair pointer that was bird hunting with its owner.
The DNR has petitioned the federal government to allow state management of wolves in the Upper Midwest.
Foster said after about 15 minutes the wolves drifted out of sight. His bear tag went unfilled that day.
“But to witness that experience, we took home more than we could have imagined,” Foster said.
Call for calm in wolf debate: As wolf populations increase in Wisconsin and elsewhere in North America, the debate over wolf management grows more heated.
A recent decision by a federal judge to restore gray wolves in the lower 48 states to the Endangered Species List has intensified the frustration among state wildlife managers, most of whom would prefer to enact state-run management plans, and fueled additional anti-wolf sentiment among some.
The leaders of several hunting and conservation organizations this week made a plea for order in the wolf debate.
The statement helps shed light on hunters’ traditional roles as conservationists who have served as the foundation of the wildlife success stories in 21st century America.
It reiterates the groups’ calls for return of the wolf to state management plans. And it admonishes those who espouse poaching or other illegal acts against wolves.
The statement comes from the heads of the Boone and Crockett Club, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Pope and Young Club, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation, the Wild Sheep Foundation and the Wildlife Management Institute.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Finally, as we seek hard commitments from government, we also need to draw a hard line for ourselves: we are sportsmen, not wolf-haters. Statements on the Internet about poaching wolves are an affront to the American conservation ethic. Illegal killing is wrong, self-defeating, and exactly opposite of how sportsmen created conservation and the privilege of ethical hunting in the first place. Hunters in America fought poachers and pushed for laws to regulate hunting. Later, sportsmen paid fees and taxes on our own licenses and equipment to fund wildlife restoration that brought wildlife back to abundance, including the game we hunt. Ours is a history of self-restraint and respect for wildlife.”