Mar 28

Cougars in Wisconsin


Around 70 people filled the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College Tuesday night to hear about confirmed cases of cougars across Wisconsin.

Adrian Wydeven, a forest wildlife specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), has tracked reports of cougars since 1990. But it was almost two decades later before their presence was first confirmed in the state.

Despite their existence, Wydeven said people shouldn’t fear them.

“I think they’re like so many other wildlife species,” he said. “If you learn to respect them, learn how to deal with them, there is no reason to be fearful of them any more than bears, wolves, coyotes and the neighbor’s dog, (which) is still more of a risk than anything else.”

The last native cougar of Wisconsin was killed in 1910, according to Wydeven. Since then, cougars have traveled east to occupy more territory over the past couple decades. There have been nine or 10 different cougars confirmed in Wisconsin since 2008. He added that all were males determined to originate from the nearest breeding population in South Dakota.

Wydeven explained that all cougars seen in Wisconsin have been males because they must leave their native territory after reaching adulthood.

“They have to normally leave because the adult male that occupies that area is not going to tolerate other adult males, including his own offspring,” said Wydeven.

Cougars tend to cover large territories of up to 150 square miles. Wydeven said Wisconsin sightings usually occur as cougars pass through the territory. Female cougars often occupy less space and don’t typically travel as far as males. Two or three female cougars may live within the same territory as a male.

Wydeven expects one day Wisconsin may have a breeding population of cougars. The first sign of that would likely be seen in Minnesota, where there are currently none.

Wydeven said the first cougar spotted in Wisconsin was in Rock County in 2008. Another cougar was sighted in St. Croix, Dunn, Clark and Bayfield Counties from late 2009 to early 2010. The cat wasn’t seen again until June 2011, when DNA testing revealed a dead cougar 1,055 miles away in Connecticut was the same cougar spotted in Wisconsin. Since then, cougars have been spotted locally in Iron, Douglas and Bayfield Counties.

Town of Lincoln resident Jack Wichita said the lecture surprised him about the number of confirmed cougar sightings in the area.

“I think that’s exciting and I love the idea of having predators like that here,” said Wichita. “I feel they’re an important part of nature. We’ve been fearful of them for so long and eliminated them for so long. I’m glad they’re back.”

Similarly, Jim Meeker from Gurney said it was exciting to know that there were cougars in the area.

“If I saw one in our woods, the hair on the back of my neck would probably rise up,” said Meeker. “But other than that, just thinking about it, I think it’s sort of neat that there are wild things that we have to be aware of.”

Questions from the audience ranged from the growing population of cougars in South Dakota to how wolves and cougars interact. Wydeven said the number of cougars in South Dakota has grown significantly since his time studying elk there in the 1970s. But he said their numbers are now leveling off to about 200 due in part to hunting of cougars. Concerning how wolves and cougars interact, Wydeven said the two predators have been known to co-exist.

According to Wydeven, most of the cougar sighting reports that the WDNR has received over the years were unlikely or only possible sightings. He said people often mistake other animals for cougars, including bobcats, fishers and wolves.

Wydeven encouraged people who have seen cougars to submit pictures and information about the sighting on the WDNR’s Large Mammal Observation Forum at


Mar 01

AARP: Wolves coming to the March AARP meeting

By Waldo Asp President, Hayward AARP Chapter

Because we were frozen out and snowed in during January, our program on “Wolves of Northwest Wisconsin” by Storme Nelson, Hunt Hill Wildlife Naturalist, had to be rescheduled. The good news is that Storme has agreed to be with us to talk about the wolves of our part of Wisconsin on Thursday, March 6.

Nelson will bring a number of artifacts so that we can better understand what a wolf is. Many of us live with descendants of wolves and we can see strong similarities between our dog pets and wolves. We will demonstrate many of these likenesses and point out differences between Han (my 100-pound male German shepherd) and the average wolf.

Wolves rarely live beyond six or seven years in the wild. Researchers are investigating whether the type and availability of food the pack eats enables an alpha female to predetermine the number and gender of pups she will have. Courtship begins during the late winter and the gestation period for wolves is 60 to 63 days, so pups are about to be born soon. For the first four to five weeks pups have contact only with their mother in the den. Later the alpha female will start to introduce the scent of other pack members to the pups, and even at that early age she will teach what type of respect is required for each rank of wolf. When they are brought above ground nannies continue their education and care.

The parenting skills of wolves are highly respected by zoologists and animal behaviorists, who consider that within the entire animal kingdom only humans and some other primates can equal the care and education that wolves offer their young. A young wolf’s education involves vital lessons in communication, social interaction and hunting. The first months of the young wolf’s life are the most crucial; many do not survive due to starvation, human persecution or loss to other predators such as bears, cougars or large birds of prey.

In their book, “Wolves at Our Door,” Jim and Jamie Dutcher state “a wolf’s identity is intertwined with that of the group to such a degree that, in some ways, a solitary wolf lacks much of what wolves are all about. A wolf’s every impulse tells it to be part of something larger, to have a companion, to belong to a pack. In the relationship between a captive wolf and a human being, this is the deeper meaning of trust. It has very little to do with simple habituation, or bribery with food. Rather, it is a bond that the wolf feels intensely and believes in completely.” This explains a great deal of how Han (my dog) is with me, and how all dogs are with their families.

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) of northwest Wisconsin is the largest member of the Canid family. Gray wolves are social animals, living in packs of about four to seven or more members, usually consisting of a breeding pair (alpha male and female) and their young. Many wolves leave the pack when they are about two years old. Listed as endangered in 1973, populations have been determined to be no longer threatened. Sawyer County has a number of packs. Go to for more information about our local wolves.

The Hayward AARP Chapter 914 meets at 2 p.m. every first Thursday of the month in the Hayward Senior Center for a business meeting, program and refreshments. Community educational forums are offered free of charge and are open to all. We intend to have fun and fellowship and provide significant information at our meetings, and we look forward to seeing you each first Thursday of the month.


Feb 13

Plea Deals Reached in Oneida Co. Wildlife Poisoning Case

By: WSAW Staff

Two Oneida County man have reached plea deal in federal court on accusations they fatally poisoned two eagles, along with other wild animals.

Alvin Sowinski, 65, and his son Paul Sowinski, 46, are charged with the illegal possession of American bald eagles.

The charges stem from the use of a pesticide, Carbofuran, to kill wildlife on the Sowinski property in Sugar Camp. The use of the chemical killed several species of animals between May 2007 and March 2010, including at least two American bald eagles.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act provides criminal penalties for the possession or taking of the American bald eagle.

In May 2007, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Warden initiated an investigation into potential poisoning of animals on property owned by Sowinski Real Estate LLC. The DNR warden found dead a bald eagle, a crow, a gray squirrel, and a bobcat, within 100 yards of a deer carcass that the warden suspected to contain a poisonous substance. The deer carcass was tested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensic Laboratory and found to contain the insecticide Carbofuran. The bald eagle, crow, gray squirrel, and bobcat were also tested by the lab and lab personnel concluded that the animals died as a result of ingesting Carbofuran.

In the winter of 2010 and continuing through April 13, 2010, Alvin Sowinski placed several bait sites on the Sowinski property near his homestead for the purpose of killing predators, such as fishers, bobcats, coyotes, and gray timber wolves. Law enforcement personnel found at least nine bait sites on the Sowinski property during this time period. These bait sites contained the remains of beavers and white-tailed deer, and processed meats. One of the bait sites found by law enforcement contained antifreeze in a coffee container.

According to the affidavit, Paul Sowinski was aware that his father was placing poison bait sites on the Sowinski property in 2010, but was not aware what chemical Alvin was using to mix with the bait material. In 2009, Paul Sowinski found two dead eagles near his deer stand and threw them in the woods. Two eagles were later recovered by law enforcement. He also admitted that he found another bald eagle, which had been placed on the property by law enforcement as part of its investigation, and burned it in a brush pile because he did not want authorities to find it, and he did not want anyone to get into trouble.

On May 12, 2010, federal search warrants were executed by law enforcement from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Oneida County Sheriff’s Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on seven different locations on the Sowinski property in Sugar Camp, looking for evidence of wildlife poisoning on the property. Law enforcement located the following additional animals that died on or near bait sites on the Sowinski property: one bald eagle, 21 crows and ravens, four coyotes, one hawk, two songbirds, one weasel and two small unidentified mammals. Several other dead animals were found in another area, but where bait materials were not in the immediate vicinity: two bald eagles, a black bear, two ravens, and a coyote. The animals seized during execution of the search warrants were not tested in the lab, but the circumstances surrounding their deaths and location is similar to those animals found by law enforcement earlier in 2010 which tested positive for Carbofuran poisoning.

United States Attorney Vaudreuil stated, “Wisconsin is a special place to live, in large part because of our clean environment and our wildlife. The criminal actions of these two defendants–poisoning the land, killing bald eagles and numerous other animals and birds–simply for their own selfish reasons, attack the very core of what this state stands for. Investigating and prosecuting this type of conduct is, and will always be, a high priority for this office and the U.S. Department of Justice.”

A sentencing date has been scheduled for May 8. The defendants each face a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.


Jan 04

State pays scofflaws over hound deaths

BILL LUEDERS Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Wisconsin, the only state with a program that compensates the owners of dogs killed by wolves while hunting other animals, has paid tens of thousands of dollars during the past decade to individuals who have violated state hunting or firearms laws.

Seven individuals received a total of $19,000 in payments after they were convicted of crimes or paid forfeitures for hunting or firearms-related offenses, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. An additional $20,000 went to four claimants who were subsequently fined for such offenses, including bear hunting without a license.

In one case, the state Department of Natural Resources paid $2,500 to a man for a dog death that happened while he was prohibited from having a hunting license, due to a prior criminal conviction. The DNR, in response to the Center’s inquiries, is investigating. But even if the claimant was breaking the law at the time, which he denies, he will get to keep the money.

“Having a license is not an eligibility requirement for reimbursement of dogs killed by wolves,” said Tim Andryk, the DNR’s chief legal counsel.

The DNR program also has approved more than $80,000 in payments to repeat claimants — those who put dogs in successive situations where they were killed by wolves. And money has gone to people from other states who brought their dogs here to hunt.

No other state compensates owners for hunting dogs killed by wolves, DNR staff confirm. The purpose of the program is to mitigate damage caused by an expanding state wolf population.

In all, during the decade under review, 2004-2013, the DNR’s wolf depredation program has approved nearly $390,000 in payments for lost hunting dogs. The deaths typically occur when hounds with electronic tracking collars are released to hunt or pursue other animals, especially bears.

Some compensated depredations occurred in areas that the DNR has flagged as being at high risk for wolf attacks.

Most of the hunting dog owners compensated for fatal wolf attacks do not have a history of violating hunting or firearms laws, and those who do are not precluded from getting payments.

“There is nothing in the legislation or state statute that would exempt someone with a criminal or hunting violation from getting compensation,” said DNR wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele, who oversees the program.

Courting disaster?

The DNR’s payments to the owners of hunting dogs killed by wolves has long been controversial.

Patricia McConnell, a University of Wisconsin-Madison zoologist and expert on dog behavior, has criticized the program for rewarding people who deliberately “choose to put their dogs at extreme risk.”

Of the 32 states that allow bear hunting, 14 ban the use of dogs, according to the Humane Society of the United States, a nonprofit animal welfare group.

Hunters frequently place the value of their lost hounds at well above the state’s maximum reimbursement rate of $2,500.

“They’re like our kids to us,” said Amy Visger, a board member of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association, in a 2010 Wisconsin Public Television news segment. “We really don’t want anything to happen to them.”

Visger is among the owners of the 23 hunting dogs killed in 2013 who are seeking compensation. She did not respond to an interview request.

Elizabeth Huntley of Wisconsin Wolf Defenders, a pro-wolf advocacy group, agreed that some hunting dogs are worth “upwards of $5,000,” depending on how much training they receive. But she believes some hunters consider their dogs expendable, and are willing to put them in harm’s way — especially if the state will compensate them for any loss.

To minimize depredations, the DNR maintains a website and sends out email alerts regarding areas in which wolves, who are highly territorial, have killed dogs. But some hunters with dogs are not avoiding these areas.

For instance, the site lists a dozen attacks since 2009 by the Flag River wolf pack within a small area in Bayfield County. Four dogs were killed there in 2013, despite the warnings.

A study released last April by researchers in Michigan found significantly higher rates of wolf attacks on dogs in Wisconsin than Michigan, which does not compensate owners for wolf attacks. Besides being a reporting inducement, it said, “compensation also creates an incentive for riskier behavior.”

Dogs die hunting bears

Since its wolf depredation program began in 1985, the DNR has paid out $1.6 million in compensation for attacks on livestock and other animals. Nearly a third of this sum has gone to the owners of hunting dogs.

According to the DNR’s Koele, the USDA’s wildlife services office has verified claims for all 23 lost hounds in 2013. The claimants have asked for up to $10,000 per animal, but the program’s established maximum is $2,500 — unless there are additional veterinary costs.

Most of the claimants for 2013 are set to get $2,500. The claims add up to $56,000, higher than any other year. The payments will be processed in mid-January, Koele said.

For many years, funding for these payments came from sources including the state’s Endangered Resources Fund, from people who bought endangered species license plates or made contributions via their tax return.

Since 2012, these payments have come from the state’s wolf-hunt application and license fees. That means these fees have not been available for other costs associated with the wolf hunt.


Jan 03

Wisconsin’s second wolf season proved orderly enough

PATRICK DURKIN For the State Journal

Wisconsin’s second wolf season provided new insights into hunting and trapping our most controversial wildlife species, but results varied so widely by zone and the state’s first two seasons that it’s tough to predict how future hunts will unfold.

Two certainties stand out, however: The Department of Natural Resources can effectively close the season to prevent excessive overkills, and hunters and trappers comply quickly to the closures.

The 2013 wolf season ended Dec. 23, the same day the 2012 season ended. Zone 3 was the final area to close both years. Beyond that, few things were similar.

The 2013 season ended with a statewide kill of 257, six more than the 251-wolf quota the DNR set with input from University of Wisconsin biologists. The 2012 hunt ended with a kill of 117, one more than the quota.

Of the six-wolf excess, four came from Zone 3, where the quota was 71 but the kill was 75. Zone 3 was the only area still open Dec. 2 when hunters could start using hounds to trail wolves. The other five zones closed between Oct. 23 and Nov. 7.

Zone 1 — immediately north of Zone 3 in northwestern Wisconsin –- had the state’s highest quota (76) and exceeded it by one. Zones 2 and 6 were also one wolf over their quotas, with kills of 29 and 31, respectively. Zone 5 fell one wolf short of its quota (34), and Zone 4′s kill matched its quota (12).

Why did hunters and trappers need nine, 17, 17, 22 and 24 days to fill the quotas in five zones, but 70 days to reach Zone 3′s quota? Tom Hauge, the DNR’s director of wildlife management, cited two factors: Zone 3′s high quota (71) and less public land.

“It will be interesting to see the ratio of public- to private-land results when we plot Zone 3′s harvest,” Hauge said. “With much of that zone in private hands, hunters and trappers needed to do more advance work to get access.”

This year’s fast start blazed past 2012′s pace. A year ago, despite a smaller quota — 116 vs. 251 — four of the six zones remained open into December, and the other two closed Nov. 16.


– In 2012, 67 percent of the kill (78 wolves) occurred before gun-deer season opened Nov. 17. Trappers took 54 of those 78 wolves, 54 (78 percent).

In 2013, 83 percent of the kill (213 wolves) occurred before gun-deer season opened Nov. 23. Trappers took 172 of those wolves (81 percent). Trappers took only one wolf after deer season began. It was trapped Dec. 1 in Washburn County.

“I think everyone learned in 2012 that trapping is the most efficient way to get a wolf early in the season,” Hauge said.

– In 2012, 17.1 percent of the kill (20 wolves) occurred during deer season, of which 18 (90 percent) were shot by hunters.

In 2013, two wolves (0.8 percent) were shot during deer season, and one (0.4 percent) was trapped.

– In 2012, 19 wolves (16.2 percent) were killed after deer season closed Nov. 25, of which 13 (68 percent) were shot. Six (32 percent) were trapped. Hounds weren’t allowed for wolf hunting in 2012.

In 2013, 41 wolves (15.9 percent) were killed after deer season closed Dec. 1, and all were shot. Of those 41, 35 (85.4 percent) were killed by hunters using hounds. The other six were killed by hunters using calls.

Houndsmen accounted for 13.6 percent of the statewide wolf kill, but started slowly. After the hound-hunting season opened Dec. 2, houndsmen killed eight wolves between then and Dec. 14, a 0.6 daily average. From Dec. 15 through the Dec. 23 closure, they killed 27 wolves, averaging three daily. The big hound-hunting days were Dec. 15 and Dec. 20, five wolves per day; Dec. 21, six wolves; and Dec. 23, four wolves.

“Once we got some fresh snow in mid-December, trailing conditions improved and success rates jumped,” Hauge said.

As the kill accelerated into the Dec. 21-22 weekend, the DNR announced on Sunday (Dec. 22) it would close the wolf season the next day at 5 p.m.

“We were somewhat surprised the pace picked up so much, which is why we started our shutdown procedures when registrations reached 64 (seven short of the quota),” Hauge said. “Hunters have 24 hours to register their wolf, so we thought we needed to shut things down sooner than we normally would.”

Even though the statewide tally exceeded the quota by six, Hauge said he felt good about the state’s first two wolf seasons.

“I remind people this is a learning experience for wildlife managers too,” he said. “But with the zones set up the way they are, the harvest got distributed the way we hoped. We protected wolves in their core areas and focused the harvest where we’ve had the most wolf-related problems.”

The DNR’s most important assessment, however, occurs after its winter wolf census.

“By April, we’ll know if we achieved our projected 10 to 15 percent reduction in the wolf population,” Hauge said.


Dec 29

Wisconsin hunters, trappers kill 257 wolves

By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel

Hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves in Wisconsin’s second regulated wolf harvest, according to a report from the Department of Natural Resources.

The season opened Oct. 15 and ended Monday as the harvest quota was exceeded.

Before the season the department set a statewide harvest quota of 251 wolves for non-tribal hunters and trappers.

“This has been a successful second season, and the harvest was well-distributed across the state,” said Kurt Thiede, DNR land division administrator.

The DNR more than doubled the wolf kill this year as it works to reduce the population toward the 350-wolf goal expressed in the 1999 Wisconsin management plan.

Wisconsin had an estimated 809 to 834 wolves in 214 packs in late winter 2013. The wolf population typically doubles each spring after pups are born and then begins to decline from various sources of mortality.

The state sold 1,862 resident and 11 non-resident wolf hunting and trapping licenses. The DNR authorized the sale of 2,510 licenses through a preseason lottery.

Sixty-seven percent of the wolves were taken by trappers.

Most of the wolves killed in the last two weeks of the season were taken by hunters using dogs. The practice was allowed beginning Dec. 2.

Since then, hunters using dogs killed 35 wolves. Wisconsin is the only state to authorize the use of dogs to hunt wolves. The method had been blocked last year by a lawsuit.

A Dane County judge vacated the injunction in January, clearing the use of dogs this year. An appeal of that decision has yet to be ruled on.

The DNR has established six wolf management zones, each with a harvest quota. The quotas and wolf kills were:

Zone 1: wolf quota 76, wolf kill 77; Zone 2: 28, 29; Zone 3: 71, 75; Zone 4: 12, 12; Zone 5: 34, 33; Zone 6: 30, 31.

The state’s wolf management plan is being revised; an updated version is expected to be presented for public review in 2014.

Aerial deer counts: The DNR is beginning its annual deer counts with helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft over portions of the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone in southern and southeast Wisconsin.

The work is done to help estimate deer populations.

DNR biologists expect the helicopter surveys will be completed by mid-February, but the work is dependent on having several inches of snow to cover logs, rocks and stumps so deer are clearly visible on the landscape, said agency wildlife population ecologist Robert Rolley.

Helicopter surveys are planned for late December to mid-January in eastern Rock and western Walworth counties. It takes four to five days of flying to count the deer in 100 individual square-mile survey blocks located across 16 townships. The helicopter deer survey flights are conducted during daylight, flying about 100 to 150 feet above treetop level at speeds of 35 to 40 mph.

A pilot and two observers are in the aircraft. If livestock are observed in the immediate survey area, the aircraft increases altitude to avoid spooking the animals. The counts are expected to begin immediately after the completion of deer surveys being conducted by several communities in the Milwaukee metropolitan area using the same helicopter and pilot.

Aerial counts also are planned in western Dane and eastern Iowa counties and portions of Richland and Sauk counties. About 240 individual square-mile sections will be surveyed.

Fixed-wing deer surveys are done at about 500 feet above ground in straight-line transects oriented east-west and extend across the length of some of the CWD Deer Management Units. The crew again consists of a pilot and two observers. About 3,500 linear miles will be surveyed in the CWD Management Zone, and the results provide an index of relative deer abundance in each unit.

Both helicopter and fixed-wing surveys are standard tools used by wildlife managers to estimate populations of various wildlife species, including deer, beaver, otters, ducks, eagles, ospreys and trumpeter swans.


Dec 27

DNR officials going over final tally of wolf hunt

MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) — The second Wisconsin wolf hunt is over and Department of Natural Resources officials are starting to over the data collected this year.

Wildlife management director Tom Hauge says the DNR’s goal is learning more about the wolf population and managing it. “We’ve got a great wolf resource in the state of Wisconsin, it’s a healthy population, we want to keep it healthy into the future. Anything we can learn through the harvesting process, that’s what we’re trying to do.” Every wolf harvested in the state has a number of samples taken in order for biologists to chart where its been, how old it is, and what condition the animal is in.

Hauge adds that the department is still feeling out the wolf hunt and hasn’t come to any set standards of how it’s supposed to go. “If this is normal we don’t yet quite know it. We’ve only had two seasons. Contrast that with 50, 60 years of deer hunting experience where we all know what to expect.” Hauge says the current methods of registration are working well though. “People who were successful called us within 24 hours of a harvest, which allowed us to keep near real time track of the harvest and to be able to take actions to start and shut it down when we needed to.”

A total of 251 wolves were allotted to non-tribal hunters this year and the hunt finished up on Monday.


Dec 27

Wis. wolf season ends with 6 extra wolves killed

Written by Associated Press

MADISON — Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers went slightly over the quota this season.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Thursday the 2013 season ended with 257 wolves harvested. That’s six animals over the 251-wolf limit.

The sixth and last zone to close was Zone 3, covering a narrow swath of northwestern Wisconsin. That zone closed at 5 p.m. Monday.

The quota for Zone 3 was 71 wolves and the closure was initiated when wolf 64 was killed Saturday. Hunters ended up taking 75 wolves in that zone, four over the quota.

Wisconsin’s wolf season was to run through the end of February unless hunters reached their statewide limit.

The 2012-13 season ended two months early on Dec. 23 as well after hunters exceeded their 116-wolf limit by one animal.


Dec 23

DNR pleased with 2nd wolf hunting season

For the second year in a row, the state’s wolf hunting season will close, more than two months early, and the DNR is starting to prepare for the next one.

Wolf hunting ended in most of the state a month-and-a-half ago, but the final zone will close this afternoon. DNR wildlife management director Tom Hauge says the first year’s quota was 116 wolves, and that was bumped up to 251 this year.

The DNR estimated that there were about 851 wolves in the state, at the end of last winter. The goal is to eventually drop that number to 350. Hauge says officials are happy with the pace of this year’s hunt.