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WI: DNR looks to educate hunters, hikers about wolves after hunting dog killed

By Emerson Lehmann

MILLADORE, Wis. (WSAW) – Hunters and farmers alike will tell you that the presence of wolves in central and north central Wisconsin is nothing new.

“A healthy wolf population and of course we have a lot of outdoor recreation occurring and a lot of livestock and dairy farms and beef farms in the state,” says Brad Koele, a wildlife damage specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “With any wildlife species you can have conflicts that occur.”

Koele says that a current estimate shows around 900 wolves, an endangered species, scattered throughout Wisconsin making up around 240 packs. Of those packs, he says less than 10 percent are involved in conflicts leading to depredation; the killing of hunting dogs or livestock.

As Wisconsin enters a season where those attacks are more likely, Koele is hoping to educate hunters and wildlife enthusiasts about the presence of wolves, and how conflicts can be avoided.

“Hunters are out there training their dogs for the bear hunting season and that’s when additional conflicts can occur,” said Koele, who confirmed a conflict involving a hunting dog happened near Mead Wildlife Area on August 3, the tenth of 2020 and the first dog killed by a wolf in Marathon County since 2017. “You don’t want to add to that hysteria or create that hysteria about wolves being on the landscape but you do want to educate the public so they can take precautions.”

According to Koele, the best precaution for hikers and others out enjoying nature are to never be too quiet.

“Making noise while you’re walking, so if there’s wolves or bear or anything else there, you’re kind of warning them that you’re coming and they have time to leave the area,” explained Koele, who says the chance of a wolf attacking a human is small. “In most cases, those wolves will flee and they’ll get out of that area, but there have been situations where wolves show a more bold behavior and may not flee right away.”

For hunters, Koele suggests being aware of your surroundings when out in the woods.

“Look for tracks. If they’re going into their bear baits and they see wolf tracks, obviously, don’t set the dogs free; try to avoid those areas, maybe run a different area,” Koele said. “Some folks will put bells on the collars of their dogs if they run in wolf areas. Again, that’s just a noise deterrent to get those wolves to leave that area if they are in that area.”

Counties with a dog depredation in 2020 include Marathon, Wood, Price, Forest, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron.

The DNR website has a tracking tool where you can see where depredations took place, whether it be livestock or a hunting dog, and track where wolves are expected to be more active.

Hunters that lose their dogs to wolf conflicts are paid $2,500 by the state.

Koele says the DNR has been tracking the pack responsible for the dog’s death at Mead Wildlife Area since 2005.

The DNR believes the pack includes between 12 and 15 wolves.