Pat Durkin column
For the third time in the past five years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to let Wisconsin manage its gray wolf population, but it’s still too soon to buy a hunting or trapping permit for canis lupus.
The F&WS announced its decision to remove wolves from the federal endangered species list for Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan the week before Christmas. The service first removed “Western Great Lakes wolves” from the list in March 2007, but a court order soon shelved the decision. After delisting wolves in May 2009, the F&WS was again blocked in court.
So, don’t be surprised if wolf protectionists ask courts to block the decision after it takes effect Jan. 27. And even if a court backs the F&WS, don’t make plans to hunt wolves this year. Only those whose pets or livestock are attacked by a wolf can seek permits to shoot wolves, as can those with a history of wolf problems. So can trappers working with the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.
Any true public hunting, trapping and wolf management by recreational hunters and trappers must wait. After all, we’ve yet to decide long-term management goals for wolves.
For instance, should our wolf population be 350, as some suggest, based on a DNR management goal in 2005? Remember, we’re at or beyond 800 wolves. Or should we manage for 500, which the DNR’s wolf committee in 2005 believed was Wisconsin’s biological capacity for wolves?
Don’t forget the best available science in 1985 said Wisconsin couldn’t support more than 100 wolves. And updated science in 1997 predicted wolves wouldn’t number 500 until 2040.
Let’s concede Wisconsin’s wolves didn’t require much management to burst such population bubbles. Their ability to live among humans far exceeded biologists’ expectations. Wolves have thrived largely on protection and public acceptance, even if through threat of fines and lost hunting privileges.
But just how accepting is the public in 2011, and will residents be more accepting if the wolf’s population goal is 350, 500 or 800? Many folks who have lost pets, livestock and hunting dogs to wolves probably dislike them at any number.
Likewise, will deer hunters be happy if we cut wolf numbers to 350? What if more deer don’t result? I doubt hunters will say: “Hmm. OK. We need a comprehensive assessment of Northwoods deer habitat and site-specific research on fawn predation by black bears.” More likely, we’ll hear louder accusations that the DNR underestimates wolves and overestimates deer.
And how do we reduce wolf numbers? Some of us believe wolves should be treated like other abundant furbearers. We hunt and trap foxes, bobcats raccoons, coyotes and black bears without harming their populations.
So why not wolves? Many folks think wolves should only be shot or trapped when causing problems. But that’s not hunting. It’s pest control. It’s also preferential treatment. Few suggest we kill only individual coyotes, raccoons and bears that eat our pets or raid our garbage.
Further, giving wolves special treatment hardens those who would hunt and trap them out of hatred, not respect. True sportsmen hunt deer, turkeys, geese, bears or coyotes because we value their meat, feathers, pelts and/or antlers.
Sadly, we hear little admiration for wolves from some folks. An email circulating shows photos of successful wolf hunters, and says: “There was a reason these things were exterminated nationwide. … I wonder if our city-dwelling tree-hugger society … understands the impact of these killing machines.”
Stereotypes about wolves and people neither help hunting nor impress most Wisconsinites. Right, wrong or where they dwell, many folks cherish wolves as a symbol of wilderness.
Wisconsin’s Chippewa consider wolves their brothers and sisters, because when “original man” asked for a companion, the Creator sent a wolf, not a woman, and said: “What shall happen to one of you shall also happen to the other. Each of you will be feared, respected and misunderstood by the people who later join you on this Earth.”
The wolf’s future in Wisconsin is too big for mere courts or the Legislature. It requires widespread public input, leadership and thoughtful dialogue. That process has hardly begun.