The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began work in 1996 to develop a new wolf management plan for the state. The initial effort by the Wisconsin Wolf Advisory Committee was directed at obtaining public opinion on ideas, issues, and concerns of wolf management in Wisconsin.
Initial Issue and Concern Identification
From October 15, 1996 to October 17, 1996 ten public forums were conducted across the state to obtain public opinions. (Sites were at Florence, Superior, Milwaukee, Park Falls, Madison, Stevens Point, Black River Falls, Rice Lake, Rhinelander and Green Bay). A total of 228 people attended the forums. Verbal comments were made by 122 of those in attendance. In addition 98 written and email comments were received during later weeks. Notifications of the forums along with information on the DNR Wolf Management Planning effort were sent to 1,200 media outlets and individuals throughout Wisconsin. Additionally copies of a "White Paper" on wolf management was sent to a list of about 800 individuals and groups who had expressed some interest in development of the original Wolf Recovery Plan in Wisconsin.
Both verbal material and written (including email) comments showed extremely strong concern for the welfare of the wolves in Wisconsin. A variety of comments centered around concern that 80 wolves is not enough to provide a stable population that justifies reclassification from endangered to threatened status. Several persons asked that any management plan incorporate a "trigger" mechanism that would automatically reclassify the timber wolf as endangered if wolf numbers dropped below a specific number.
Not all people agreed that reclassification should occur and some stated they'd be opposed to any change in the status of the wolf. Others favored reclassification but after population numbers are larger than 80 wolves. At least one person suggested simply getting out of wolf management entirely.
The strongest single recommendation was that education about wolves continue with strong funding. Those responding in the forums and in writing showed real concern for the possible lack of adequate funding for educational efforts and some suggested methods of raising dollars for wolf monitoring, education and management.
In general people indicated support for some type of wolf population control at a future time but disagreed on the number of wolves that should exist in Wisconsin. While some thought hunters should be allowed to take wolves, and one person suggested using volunteers to control depredating wolves, in general most who discussed the issue felt that only Department of Natural Resources professionals should control wolf numbers.
Although there was some disagreement there was general support for payment of damage to livestock and pet owners who lose animals to wolves. Some individuals suggested funding mechanisms including a call for private organizations to shoulder the cost.
While they represent a clear minority some people did suggest that the state spend no further money on wolf management and indicated they felt there was no reason to nurture wolf populations.
An issues report summarizing people's issues and concerns about wolf management was sent out in September, 1997. This report was sent to more than 1,000 persons and groups who have shown interest in the Wolf Management Plan for Wisconsin. It also was distributed in press release to about 1,200 outlets in Wisconsin.
Draft 1 Wolf Management Plan
The Wolf Advisory Committee began on a draft wolf management plan in fall, 1997. Draft 1 of the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan was completed in spring, 1998 and sent out for public review in early May. More than 2,000 copies of the draft document were distributed. The draft plan was announced in a press release that went to more than 1,200 media outlets.
The 90-day review period allowed individuals or groups to comment on the Draft Wolf Management Plan. It helped the Department of Natural Resources Wolf Advisory Committee to clarify public attitudes and desires. In addition it pointed the way toward the need to discuss issues not fully voiced in the first set of forums. A second set of forums was conducted from June 1 through 4, 1998, at Superior, Hayward, Rhinelander, Green Bay, Black River Falls, Stevens Point, Madison and Milwaukee. Staff from the Wolf Advisory Committee, especially Adrian Wydeven, explained the draft plan at meetings with interest groups including the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, at meetings with Chippewa Nation representatives, members of the HoChunk Nation, Menomonee Nation and Oneida Nation, the Sierra Club, University of Wisconsin Extension Livestock Specialist Richard Vatthauer and a livestock association representative as well as many others. Numerous individuals received information over the phone, by mail, and by email. The concepts expressed in Draft 1 of the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan were discussed by Wydeven and other Committee representatives on Wisconsin Public Radio, numerous commercial television and radio stations and in the print media.
During the second set of forums in, June 1998, an estimated 300 attended the sessions and 69 persons directly addressed the plan. During the review period 423 written comments were received including 173 individual comments, 40 individual letters from high school students at Kaukauna and 202 copies of form letters. Individuals letters were 46 percent supportive of the Draft 1 plan and 50 percent negative toward the Draft 1 plan. About 4 percent of respondents were neutral. Five of the organizations were supportive and three were negative. The committee received 193 copies of one form letter that expressed concern about wolf populations in Wisconsin. There were also 9 copies of another form letter that indicated support for wolves.
Most of the 40 letters from Kaukauna High School were generally supportive but some expressed concern about wolf numbers.
Major issues that people brought to the attention of the Wolf Advisory Committee were:
Population level: The issue of greatest concern was the proposed wolf population goal of 300-500 wolves for the State of Wisconsin. Many people wanted to keep the wolf population at 100 or less. Often people had the misconception that the goal of 80 wolves established in the 1989 Wolf Recovery Plan was a maximum goal. That number was actually established as a minimum measure of success for the Wolf Recovery Plan. Others objected to any control on the wolf population and recommended allowing wolves to stabilize with the prey populations. Although wolves can exist without any control in large wilderness parks in a highly developed state, such as Wisconsin, this isn't possible.
Based on these concerns in Draft 1 of the Management Plan the Wolf Committee recommended a reduction in Draft 2 of the state delisting goal from 300 animals for three years to 250 animals for one year. The committee also decided against a maximum goal of 500 wolves and, instead, proposed a minimum management goal of 350. Therefore at 350 wolves maximum efforts at population control could go into effect.
The final draft incorporates public comments that questioned the population count methods and whether the population includes wolves in Native American reservations. The population count utilized is a late winter count using current survey methods and does not include wolves in Native American reservations.
Livestock and Pet Depredation: Many people were concerned about protecting pets or livestock on their land. Therefore the Wolf Advisory Committee decided to recommend authority be provided to private citizens to kill wolves in the act of attacking pets on private land. The lowering of the delisting goals also would allow landowner control to begin somewhat sooner than envisioned in the Draft 1 plan. Additionally, the Wolf Committee has recommended continuing payments for pets lost to wolves once delisting has occurred.
Lethal Control of Wolves: A lot of concern was expressed that all public land (7,600 mi2) in the Northern Deer Management Units and in the Central Forest Deer Management Units were proposed to be closed to any lethal control activity under Draft 1 of the Wolf Management Plan. On the other hand, some people did not want any lethal control anywhere in Zone 1 of the original plan. (Northern and Central Wisconsin 23,000 mi2). The Wolf Advisory Committee decided that the Zone system needed to be modified to meet the concern of the public. In Draft 2 areas closed to all lethal control were reduced to large blocks of highly suitable wolf habitat (3,227 mi2). These Wolf Core Areas consisted mostly of public land but also include some small isolated parcels of private land and industrial forest land. The Wolf Committee felt that the Wolf Core Areas would serve as a safety net against excessive control activities.
The Wolf Committee dropped the formal core areas from this final version of the Wolf Management Plan and, instead, included a flexible system whereby lethal control would rarely be conducted in on large blocks of public land but avoided a total prohibition of lethal controls on such lands. As long as intense population monitoring is maintained more flexible controls can be allowed.
Central Forest Wolf Packs: A great deal of concern was expressed over wolves becoming established in the Central Forest. Many people were concerned about the potential impact of wolves on pets, livestock and deer. No livestock depredation has yet occurred and depredation on pets has been limited. The impact on deer is not significant. Still, because of the concerns expressed, the Wolf Advisory Committee decided to recommend treating the Central Forest as a zone separate from Zone 1. By special designation more attention could be focused on this zone, including focused education, research and more liberal control if necessary. The Central Forest Area would be treated as a more experimental population compared to the Northern Forest Zone (Zone 1), and would not have a coyote closure during the firearm gun season. Having different regulations in Zone 2 (Central Forest) would allow the Department of Natural Resources to evaluate the future needs of such regulations on Zone 1. Different regulations also allow for more flexible management of wolves in Central Wisconsin.
Wolf Monitoring: The Draft 1 Wolf Plan proposed significant reductions in wolf monitoring. Many people had concerns about the proposal to reduce wolf population monitoring once wolves were downlisted. People interested in keeping wolf numbers low were interested in maintaining intense monitoring to justify more intense control activities. Conversely, many people concerned about continued security for the wolf population want to be able to detect any declines in the population., Therefore the Wolf Advisory Committee is recommending continuing to maintain existing levels of intense population monitoring.
Native American Concerns: Members of the Menominee Nation wanted their reservation to be included in the Northern Forest Zone to promote wolf establishment in their area. The Wolf Advisory Committee therefore included the county in Zone 1. The Wolf Management Plan also expands the language referring to Native American reservations, ceded lands and tribal lands.
Coyote Hunting Closure: Some hunters were opposed to continued closure of coyote hunting during the firearm deer season in Wisconsin. Because the need for a coyote closed season has yet to be determined in Central Wisconsin the current Plan does not include expanding the coyote closed zone to Central Wisconsin. Also, the area closed to coyote hunting during the gun deer season would be reduced from 44 percent of the state to 33 percent of the state. Because the coyote closed zone had worked in the past to reduce illegal kill of wolves in Northern Wisconsin, Wolf Committee members did not feel complete removal of the closed area would be advisable because it may introduce additional forms of mortality to wolves in the area.
Threats to Humans, Pets, Livestock: Many people were concerned that the wolf population would continue to grow to extremely high levels and pose threats to livestock, pets and humans. The Wolf Committee has increased the flexibility for Department of Natural Resources, USDA-Wildlife Services , and local law enforcement officers to control nuisance wolves, especially in areas of unsuitable habitat. This concern also points to the need for continued education about wolves to help alleviate people's fears.
Public Harvest of Wolves: Several hunters and trappers expressed interest in starting a public harvest of wolves as soon as possible. Some felt public harvest was needed to keep wolves at specific population goals. Others objected strongly to any public harvest of wolves, and only accept lethal control by government agents. The Wolf Advisory Committee decided that it would be premature to recommend a hunting or trapping season structure at this time. Public acceptance of a wolf harvest appears low. At low population numbers a public harvest would not be scientifically sound. Still, the time may come when a public harvest is wise. If the population exceeds 350 and if public tolerance of wolves is very low, then a public harvest will be considered. The committee did not feel it could adequately evaluate the attitudes of the people affected to determine "social carrying capacity" at this time. Also, impacts from other mortalities would need to be carefully evaluated before a public harvest could be conducted.
Public Attitude Surveys: Several people expressed concern that scientific surveys of people's attitudes had not been conducted recently in Wisconsin. A recent survey of attitudes of people towards wolves and other endangered species is now listed in Appendix H of this document. Attitude surveys are listed as an important research priority.
Wolf Management Program Costs: The cost of wolf management was of concern to some people. Although some felt no money should be spent on wolves many urged added funding. A large number of people urged that wolf monitoring be continued and that full payment for depredation of pets or livestock be continued. Adequate funding for education about wolves was a major emphasis of the responses to the initial set of forums which identified major issues. The respondents to the Draft 1 plan also emphasized the importance of education and adequate funding for educational activities, but to a lesser degree than experienced in the original forums. People also expressed concerns that dollars from hunting, fishing and trapping licenses not be used for non-game management purposes. The Wolf Advisory Committee has recommended, in this document, that the program be funded through general public revenues or alternate funding and not segregated dollars from hunting, fishing and trapping licenses sales.
Draft 2 Wolf Management Plan
Based on all the information that has been gathered, the Wisconsin Wolf Advisory Committee revised the plan. The Draft 2 plan incorporated some new ideas and was modified to meet the needs expressed by people at the public meetings and in other communications. It was to serve to guide cooperation with the Departments of Natural Resources in Minnesota and Michigan. The plan was developed with benefit of information from their wolf management experts.
A 45-day review period was conducted on the Second Draft of the Wolf Plan from March 19 to May 5, 1999 with an additional 10-day extension to May 15. There were 53 letters and 39 email messages received during the review period.
A discussion group with invited members representing a variety of viewpoints was conducted April 24 at Wausau to discuss the Draft 2 Wolf Management Plan. Those invited were from a variety of interest organizations but were asked to express their personal views and not state a specific formal interest group position statement.
The people attending were members of the Sierra Club, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Timber Wolf Information Network, Great Lakes Fish & Wildlife Commission, Whitetails Unlimited, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, Wisconsin Livestock Association, Wisconsin Chapter of The Wildlife Society, an industrial forester , Defenders of Wildlife, Timber Wolf Alliance and Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmers Association. Others invited but not attending the wolf discussion group included members of the Menomonee Nation; Ho Chunk Nation; Bad River Band of Chippewa; Lac du Flambeau Band of Chippewa; Izaak Walton League and Indianhead Sheep Breeders Association.
Additionally wolf committee members met with individual groups including the Wisconsin Conservation Congress; Wisconsin Wildlife Federation; Wisconsin Bowhunters Association; Wisconsin Deer Farmers Association; Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association; Timber Wolf Alliance; Wisconsin Zoning Commissioners; County Forest Administrators; University of Wisconsin - Madison; University of Wisconsin - Marinette Center; St. Norbert College, DePere; Marathon County Farmers; Wisconsin Loggers Conference; and Madison Birdwatchers. Committee members also met with representatives of Polled Hereford associations and the Northern Wisconsin Beef Breeders Association.
In addition 1,200 media notices were sent out about the wolf plan and committee members have been interviewed by many media people including Wisconsin Public Radio call-in programs; radio stations at LaCrosse, Eau Claire, Park Falls, Milwaukee, Madison, Sparta, Green Bay, Rhinelander and Duluth. Newspapers from Wausau, Minocqua, Eau Claire, Duluth, Madison, Abbotsford, LaCrosse, Marinette, Neillsville, Minneapolis, Grantsburg, and Ironwood, MI. carried information about the Draft 2 Wolf Management Plan. In addition, specialty publications such as Wisconsin Outdoor News, Wisconsin Outdoor Journal, Sports Afield, and Wolf Magazine sought and received information. Television stations from Eau Claire also aired news coverage about the Draft 2 Wolf Management Plan. In addition the Draft 2 plan was made available on the Department of Natural Resources' World Wide Web Site and also on the Timber Wolf Information Network World Wide Web Site.
Modifications made in the final wolf plan draft based on public input included the following:
This Wolf Management Plan incorporates these concerns as well as updated information and includes minor editing changes. The Wolf Plan will also serve as an Environmental Analysis of Wolf Management in Wisconsin. A completed version of the Wolf Management Plan will be presented to Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer and the Natural Resources Board for approval.
Once approved, the Wolf Management Plan would guide wolf management in the State for the next 10 to 15 years. The Wolf Advisory Committee will review the wolf plan annually and conduct a public review of the plan every five years.
This plan also will serve as a document to Federal Recovery Efforts as assurance of wolf conservation in Wisconsin and set the stage for Federal reclassification and delisting. The plan will indicate how the State of Wisconsin will manage wolves once authority is completely returned to the State.
If you are interested in the Environmental Analysis process you may contact:
James D. Pardee
The third draft of the Wolf Management Plan was presented to the the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board on August 25, 1999 in Hayward. Thirty-one persons spoke before the board about the plan. Seventeen of the people generally supported the plan although some recommended changes and fourteen had major concerns about portions of the plan or objected to most of the plan. Major concerns included discussion that the management goal of 350 is too low to guarantee wolf population perpetuation in Wisconsin; that the management goal is to high and will cause increased depredation; that the Department of Natural Resources wolf counts are too low and that depredation payments must be made promptly and at market rates when wolf damage occurs. Some individuals also disagreed with the plan because it did not contain a specific formula for wolf harvest.
Following the presentation of the wolf plan and public discussion, the Natural Resources Board deferred action until its October 27th meeting and instructed the Department staff to make five major modifications to the plan:
These additions were incorporated into the wolf plan sent to the Natural Resources Board for its meeting on Oct. 27, 1999 in Madison.
Draft 4 Wolf Management Plan
The fourth draft of the wolf plan was presented to the Natural Resources Board on October 27, 1999, in Madison. Although opportunity for additional public comment was not provided at this meeting, the Board received extensice written comment and much media coverage on the fourth draft of the wolf plan. Comments were mainly negative toward the concept of public hunting of wolves. At the October 27 meeting, the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved the fourth draft of the wolf management plan, with modifications that Appendix J, the specifics of wolf hunting regulations, be removed from the plan. the Board also recommended that language be clarified in the depredation section of the plan, especially to clarify that landowners throughout the state would have the authority to protect pets and livestock from wolves on their land. the ,aterial in Appendix J would be maintained as a seperate document, that would be used to state the discussion of wolf hunting regulation once the need develops for such control.
A series of strategies were used to seek public interest and opinion as the drafts of the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan were prepared. The first set of forums was to identify major issues. Respondents largely indicated their concern that the wolf be adequately protected although some responses emphasized a fear that wolves pose problems and that wolf recovery in Wisconsin is not a good idea.
The second set of forums, conducted after publicity that outlined the major points of Draft 1, brought comments critical of the range of population management (300-500). Many respondents were concerned that wolves would affect their recreational opportunities such as use of snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles, deer hunting opportunities or threaten hounds used to hunt bear or coyotes.
A face-to-face discussion between individuals with varying opinions was used to obtain public input in Draft 2. The Draft 3 plan was the result of those discussions as well as written and verbal statements of others to the members of the wolf committee.
During the preparation of this document more than 300 public presentations, interviews, and speeches were made to groups and reporters throughout Wisconsin as well as in other states and to a Swedish conference on European wolf management. News releases and the Department of Web page were used to provide information and to seek public input for all drafts of the plan.
A stakeholder group was developed at the direction of the Board as a methiod of obtaining continueing public input at its August, 1999 meeting. Other citizen involvement techniques, such as mailings, news releases, assistance to teachers and citizen groups, also will be required as this plan is implemented. It will be essential for all persons who want to be involved with wolf management to be heard.
At its meeting on October 27, 1999 the Board approved the plan. It also directed staff to clarify landowner rights to protect stock and pets on their private property from wolf attack, and to remove the specifics of public harvest from the plan, but retain the information as a report for later study.