Paul Smith | Outdoors Editor
With a recovered gray wolf population and thriving numbers of black bears, coyotes and bobcats, predators are one of the most common topics of conversation among Wisconsin hunters and wildlife watchers.
The question is often asked: What predator is the most significant cause of deer mortality in Wisconsin?
The Department of Natural Resources embarked on a pair of deer research projects in 2010 that will add facts to the conversation.
The first-year report is due to be released soon.
But a study in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been under way for three years and has produced several preliminary reports.
It’s titled “Role of predators, winter weather and habitat on white-tailed deer fawn survival.” The Carnivore Ecology Laboratory at Mississippi State University is leading the study; it’s being conducted just north of the Wisconsin-Michigan border in Menominee County.
Researchers have attached radio collars to adult deer and fawns and follow the animals to learn more about their movements, choice of habitat and causes of death. In 2011, the study had about 40 adult deer and 50 fawns radio-collared.
The researchers also have GPS collars on bears, bobcats, coyotes and wolves in the study area.
Last year we ran a story with preliminary results that showed coyotes were the leading source of predation on both adult deer and fawns.
The most recent update was issued last fall. What’s it show?
For the third straight year, coyotes killed more adult deer and more fawns than did wolves, bobcats or bears.
The cumulative three-year record shows coyotes have preyed on seven adult deer in the study, wolves on three and bear and bobcat one each.
Similarly, over the three years coyotes have preyed on 22 fawns, outpacing bobcats (12 fawns), bears (four) and wolves (four). One fawn was killed by a bald eagle.
The study isn’t yet complete, but the consistent results of the first three years should, if nothing else, increase awareness of the significant role coyotes play in the Upper Midwest ecosystem.
EPA denies lead petition: In a decision released Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency denied a petition to ban lead in all fishing tackle. The petition, which was submitted in November by the Center for Biological Diversity and two other groups, requested the EPA study and ultimately ban lead in fishing tackle on all U.S. waters under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
This most recent attempt to federally ban lead fishing tackle came on the heels of the EPA’s November 2010 decision to dismiss a similar petition submitted by the same groups. That decision is being challenged in court by the petitioners.
In dismissing the most recent petition, the EPA stated that the petitioners did not “provide a basis for finding that the risk presented is an unreasonable risk for which federal action under section 6(a) of TSCA is necessary.” The EPA also cited state-specific actions and the increasing education and outreach activities being undertaken.
Sandhill crane bill: As of Friday morning, a proposal from Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) to establish a sandhill crane hunting season in Wisconsin had not been issued a bill number. Thus it is unlikely it will be taken up before the legislative session ends in March, according to the chief clerk’s office.
Kleefisch disclosed a draft of a sandhill crane hunting proposal Feb. 1. It has since been circulated for co-sponsors and is in the hands of the chief clerk.
Even if such legislation were passed, it would take about 1½ years to establish a flyway plan and another two to three years for the state to set administrative rules for a sandhill crane hunt, according to Kent Van Horn, migratory ecologist for the DNR.
However, the public will have an opportunity in the near future to weigh in on the subject of a hunt. The Wisconsin Conservation Congress has included a question on the matter at its spring meetings April 9 in each of the state’s 72 counties.
The advisory question will ask: Are you in favor of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress asking the Wisconsin Legislature to give the DNR authority to develop a hunting season for sandhill cranes?
Wolf hunting bill: Assembly Bill 502, which would establish a hunting and trapping season for gray wolves in Wisconsin, is undergoing some amendments and may be brought back to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee in the next week, according to assistants to Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbottsford), one of the bill’s authors.
The amended version likely will remove the landowner hunting provision, which would have allowed farmers or other landowners to shoot wolves without a permit.
In addition, the amended bill is likely to clarify the funding sources for wolf depredation. If the wolf is listed as an endangered species, depredation payments would come from the endangered resources fund. If the wolf is being managed as a protected wild animal, depredation payments would come from funds raised through the sale of hunting and trapping licenses.
Montana wolf hunt ends: The 2011-’12 wolf hunting season closed statewide Wednesday in Montana and no seasons will be further extended, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks officials.
The season ended with a total harvest of 166 wolves, 75% of the overall quota of 220. The season was initially set to end Dec. 31, but the state’s wildlife commission extended it until Feb. 15 to give hunters more time to reach the harvest quota. The extension resulted in the harvest of 45 more wolves.
Wildlife officials documented a minimum of 566 wolves, in 108 verified packs, and 35 breeding pairs in Montana at the end of 2010. Wildlife managers are now compiling Montana’s 2011 wolf population data.