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Prominent Wisconsin predator no longer protected

Gray wolves removed from endangered species list, state governments will manage population

By Andrew Campnell
News Writer

The big bad wolf will now have to be extra careful in the Wisconsin woods. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as of Jan. 27 the U.S. government has delisted the gray wolf from the endangered species list. State governments, with the help of DNR agencies, will now be responsible for managing this canine predator.

There was a time when the gray wolf roamed freely throughout Wisconsin. According to the DNR, the gray wolf had been in Wisconsin long before the state was settled. During that time, the population of wolves in Wisconsin was estimated to be in the thousands, but after a gray wolf bounty was created in 1865, hunting them became very popular, and their population started to decrease rapidly—reaching less than 50 in 1950.

The gray wolf population fluctuated until the early 1990s, when Wisconsin saw a dramatic population increase in wolves, reaching more than 200 by 1999. As of 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services states there are at least 800 wolves living in Wisconsin.

Robert Howe, professor of natural and applied sciences at UW-Green Bay, said one of the main reasons for the wolf population increase is the abundance of whitetail deer in Wisconsin. Deer are a main food source for wolves, and are crucial to their survival.

Aside from the abundance of deer, wildlife biologist Joel Trick said another reason for the wolf population boom could be the great habitat in Wisconsin and abundance of prey base surrounding it. Wolves in Wisconsin typically live in heavily forested areas, and their diet consists of numerous herbivores, including elk, rabbits, moose and beavers.

Regardless of the population, the gray wolf still causes many problems for the people of Wisconsin.

Cal Dalton, a farmer from Endeavor, Wis., recalls past experiences in which wolves have chased, and even killed, his registered cows and calves. Each cow had cost at least $500, giving wolves a way to financially affect humans.

Besides cows, horses and other livestock have been attacked or killed by wolves. Dogs, especially hunting dogs, have also been a target of wolves. Hunting dogs trained to search for bears can sometimes wander into a wolf’s territory, and wolves are extremely territorial—especially when their young are around. Wisconsinites everywhere must take this into consideration, Dalton said.

After hearing tragic stories of wolves killing livestock and dogs, it would be hard to imagine wolves could benefit Wisconsin, yet there are people who feel wolves are beneficial to the state.

Wolves can maintain the populations of wildlife by picking out the weak and sick, Trick said. With controlled populations, this can result in fewer motorists hitting deer on Wisconsin roads.

Howe also added that some people in Wisconsin like to watch wolves through trail cameras, and have even turned wolf watching into a recreational activity.

Problems and benefits aside, a popular wolf topic among many people is whether or not there will be a controlled wolf-hunting season. Howe feels there will be a hunting season for wolves in the near future, because wolves can produce many offspring, causing their numbers to increase.

With the population increase, the depredation of livestock could become worse, which could mean more financial trouble for farmers who register their livestock.

Decisions on the future of gray wolves in Wisconsin, including whether or not a hunting season will be implemented, are expected to be made during the next few months. If Wisconsin legislators choose not to create a hunting season, experts expect some means of controlling their population to be started.

Wolves may seem like a blessing to some and a burden to others, but according to Trick, they will always remain an important part of Wisconsin’s ecosystem.