MHS grad works on state wolf pup mortality study
Ellen Heilhecker, a graduate student of wildlife at the University of
Wisconsin-Stevens Point, will be conducting a gray wolf pup mortality
study in Wisconsin’s central forest region in collaboration with wildlife
biologists from DNR.
Heilhecker is a 1989 graduate of Menomonie High School. She is the
daughter of Mary Heilhecker of Menomonie and Bill Heilhecker of
Wisconsin’s wolf population was estimated at 251 individuals in 2001, of
which approximately 37 wolves in 12 packs occupied the central forest
region. Surveys to determine the 2002 wolf population should be completed
Classified as a state threatened species, efforts are underway by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify Wisconsin’s wolf population from
federally endangered to a threatened species. Information gathered in this
study will aid in their management and recovery.
The central forest region is the second largest forested area in the state
after the Wisconsin northwoods, encompassing 3,015 square miles including
portions of Eau Claire, Chippewa, Clark, Jackson, Wood, Monroe, Juneau,
Adams, and Marquette counties.
For two consecutive field seasons (2002 and 2003), wolf pups from five
packs will be captured, radio tagged, and monitored daily from mid-July to
January to determine survival rates and causes of mortality.
“We expect to find canine parvovirus, canine distemper and sarcoptic mange
impacting wolf pup survival, but to what extent we don’t know,” stated
Wayne Hall, a DNR wildlife biologist. “We hope to gain insight into the
extent of diseases present and their cause-specific mortality rates to
better manage Wisconsin’s growing wolf population.”
Each pup will be fitted with an ear tag transmitter developed specifically
for this study by Hall and Advanced Telemetry Systems in Isanti, Minn. The
transmitters are the size and weight of a quarter with a four-inch
flexible, contour whip antenna. They are equipped with a motion sensitive
mode that will emit a faster signal when the animal is no longer moving.
“Locating dead pups in time to determine what killed them is unlikely
unless individuals are monitored intensively by telemetry,” said
Heilhecker. “This study will allow me to locate wolf pups within 24 hours
of their death.”
Pups will be tracked from the ground using hand-held radio telemetry
equipment and located from fix-winged aircraft once or twice a week. Upon
hearing the sped up radio signal, carcasses will be retrieved and taken
directly to the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center in
Madison for analysis to determine the cause of death.
Wolf pup survival rates in Wisconsin are not well known. DNR mammalian
ecologist and chairman of the Wisconsin wolf program, Adrian Wydeven said,
“We have estimated that we normally lose about 70 percent of wolf pups
within the first year.”