By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources utilizes a team of volunteer trackers each winter to help monitor the state’s wolf population.
It’s been called the largest such wildlife tracking program in the nation.
Volunteers are required to attend one or more training sessions to qualify for the effort. The DNR is issuing its annual call for volunteers as well as listing the schedule of workshops planned in the coming weeks.
Volunteer trackers are assigned survey blocks in forest portions of northern and central Wisconsin, and are asked to conduct three or more surveys in their assigned block each winter. Data they gather can be compiled with those of other volunteers to aid Department of Natural Resources biologists in evaluating wolf populations.
Wolf and Carnivore Tracker Training sessions are scheduled:
•Nov. 5, Ashland, Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, Highway 2 & G, west of Ashland.
•Dec. 3, Babcock, Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center, 1 mile north of Highway 173 along County Road X.
•Dec. 10-11, Tomahawk, Wildlife Tracking with James Halfpenny, Treehaven UW-SP Field Station on Pickerel Creek Road off County A.
Training sessions run at Ashland, and Babcock will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Applicants should register as soon as possible because space is limited. There is a small fee for the classes. Training at Treehaven near Tomahawk will be held Dec. 10 and 11 and will be led by renowned tracker James Halfpenny. Cost of the workshop has yet to be determined.
Details about the volunteer tracking program and the wolf ecology and tracking training sessions are available here.
In late winter 2011, DNR biologists and volunteers estimated there were from 782 to 824 wolves in the state, including 751 or more outside Indian reservations. About one-third of the state packs are monitored by radio-telemetry; the remaining packs are monitored by DNR and volunteer trackers.
In 2011, 137 volunteer trackers surveyed 86, 200-square-mile survey blocks covering 8,232 miles of snow-covered roads and trails. Volunteers averaged 4.1 surveys per block, covering 95.7 miles, conducting 15.4 hours of tracking per block, and detected more than 430 different wolves.
“With the continued spread of the state wolf population and reduced funding for surveys, the volunteer carnivore tracking program is critical for us to obtain accurate counts of the state wolf population,” said Adrian Wydeven, DNR mammal ecologist who coordinates the state wolf program. “Despite changes in federal listings these surveys will continue to be important for long-term conservation of wolves and other forest carnivores in Wisconsin.”
Volunteers are also helpful in other ways, Wydeven said. Last fall, several volunteers conducted hunter outreach in the field and made contacts with deer hunters across several northern counties. During the spring volunteers helped with wolf trapping, radio collaring, donations of radio collars, and howl surveys as well as staffing educational booths at sport shows and other events.
Training sessions will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please try to register at least two weeks before each session.
Volunteers are also strongly encouraged to take a wolf ecology course if they have not already done so. Biologists recommend taking the wolf ecology course before signing up for track training workshops. Wolf ecology courses will be offered next year on the following dates at the locations listed.
•Jan. 14-15, Tomahawk – Treehaven, cost $102-$150 (includes meals; lodging is optional). Contact Treehaven at firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Jan. 21-22, Babcock – Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center, Babcock, $80 (includes two meals and dorm lodging). Contact email@example.com.
•Feb. 18-19, Babcock – Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center, cost $80 (includes two meals and dorm lodging). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Feb. 25-26, Tomahawk – Treehaven, cost $102-$150 (includes meals; lodging is optional). Contact Treehaven at email@example.com.