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Wolf’s reintroduction to Wisconsin has naturalist howling

Wolf’s reintroduction to Wisconsin has naturalist howling

Just call it a howling success. After dropping to a low of just 15 animals in the mid-1980s, the wolf population in Wisconsin has now rebounded to where it tops 300 wolves.

It is likely that as early as this spring the wolf will be downlisted from the federal endangered species list for the Great Lakes region.

Cindy Mueller, a naturalist with High Cliff State Park, has been a volunteer with the DNR’s wolf recovery program for more than a decade. As part of those efforts, she regularly offers educational presentations on wolves both at High Cliff and elsewhere. Her next talk, “Wolf Ecology and Recovery in Wisconsin,” is set for 1:30-3 p.m. March 15 at the Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, 1305 Plank Road, Menasha.

“It’s a family program,”Mueller said. “Things like what makes a wolf a wolf, what makes a wolf different from other animals like dogs and coyotes and also how they are similar, how domestic dogs have evolved over the years. I also talk about some of the ways Wisconsin has been following the wolf project, its successes and what it means.”

Mueller first got involved as a volunteer in the wolf recovery efforts in the 1980s when the “howling surveys” were started. At the time, she was working with Fallen Timbers Environmental Center in Black Creek.

“A group of us went out with what was then the state’s wolf biologist. We went out and he howled and sure as heck, we heard wolves,” she said. “That’s all it took for me to get interested.”

As part of the project, wolves were trapped and had radio monitors put on so their movements could be tracked.

In the decades before the 1970s, when the wolf started returning naturally to Wisconsin (that is, it was not a deliberate reintroduction program with animals moved in), wolves virtually had been been bountied out of existence here.

“The reason for that was they were considered kind of a varmint, not good for much and they were a threat possibly to the deer population,” Mueller said. “Deer hunting was considered to be something that was a boon to the state, good for the economy, but the wolf was not.”

While wolves generally are not as big an issue as predators of farm animals here as they are in some western states, for example, they have on occasion raised the ire of bear hunters, Mueller said.

“They go out to train their dogs and it’s at that time of year when wolves are on the den site,” she said. “And these dogs they’re training are in the area … and don’t come back. That’s been a real hot topic with bear-hunters. Really, it’s just being aware.”

With the wolf population on the rise, there are new and different issues, Mueller pointed out.

“What do we do when we reach the goal, that’s the big controversial thing right now,” she said. “We’re looking at the possibility, the probability, in the coming years of having to reduce the population by a few each year. That’s all real clear in the plan … but it’s not an uncomplicated thing.”

For now, however, you still can probably count yourself lucky if you catch sight of a wolf or hear that distinctive howl.

“If you’re an outdoorsman or travel the back roads a lot, you have a better opportunity now to see them.”

Mueller’s “Wolf Ecology and Recovery in Wisconsin” presentation is part of the family naturalist programs offered at Heckrodt. Admission is $2 per person. Preregistration is suggested. For more information or to register, contact Heckrodt Wetland Reserve, 920-720-9349.

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