by Robert Hornacek
They were once on the verge of being wiped out but wolves are now thriving in Wisconsin. Some believe that record wolf population is the main reason behind the rise in attacks on hunting dogs. But others say that’s not necessarily the case.
Dick Baudhuin started bear hunting in the early 1960s. While has since retired from bear hunting and has accumulated a few trophies, there are a couple of experiences he will never forget.
About 10 years ago, wolves killed two of Baudhuin’s hunting dogs.
“It’s a shock. It rocks you back on your heels,” Baudhuin said.
He took pictures of the scene to document what happened but they’re so graphic we decided not to show them on television.
“When we recovered the dog it was pretty well totally disemboweled,” Baudhuin said.
He says losing a dog is almost like losing a friend.
“It hit pretty hard when we lost those dogs,” Baudhuin said. “When you raise a hound from a puppy and see them develop, you can’t help but get attached to them.”
Baudhuin is not alone. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, this year, wolves killed 40 hunting dogs in Wisconsin. That’s an all-time high. The previous high was 23. That happened twice: in 2006 and in 2013.
“This year was certainly higher than what we’ve seen in the past,” said David MacFarland, a large carnivore specialist with DNR.
When asked if there was any indication why the number was so high, MacFarland replied, “We don’t really know. There’s a number of things that can influence these interactions between wolves and dogs.”
MacFarland says the number of hunting dogs killed each year fluctuates so it’s hard to pinpoint a cause. But he says it’s no surprise that it’s happening.
“It’s the nature of wolves,” he said. “They’re a territorial animal. They’re aggressive towards other canines whether it’s wild or domestic. So this is a natural behavior of wolves. So we know why the conflicts occur but these fluctuations in rates are a little bit more difficult to put your finger on.
Most of the dogs were killed in the northwest part of the state. That area has a well-established wolf population.
“That whole northern third of the state is occupied by wolves,” Baudhuin said.
Baudhuin says he believes more dogs are being killed because Wisconsin has more wolves.
The latest estimate from the DNR showed that Wisconsin had 866 wolves, up from 746 last year.
“I think that the numbers that we’ve been hearing as far as estimated population are way lower than the actual population,” Baudhuin said.
But some wolf experts have another view.
“The numbers alone are not the biggest factor that cause the high kill in hounds, said Adrian Wydeven who spent 23 years running the state’s wolf recovery program.
He’s now with the Timber Wolf Alliance, a group that promotes conservation and education about wolves.
Wydeven says the record wolf population is not necessarily the reason for the rise in hunting dog deaths.
“It’s hard to attribute that just to wolves because the numbers of wolves in areas where hounds are being trained really hasn’t changed all that much in the last five, 10 years. With the growth of the wolf population, we’re seeing wolves in areas that they hadn’t been previously,” Wydeven said.
In 2012, the wolf population was 815, the second highest on record. Yet only seven hunting dogs were killed by wolves. That was the lowest in a decade.
In 2006, even though there were only 467 wolves, 23 hunting dogs were killed.
Wydeven says there could be other factors are at play, like a recent change that eliminated the need for a permit to train hounds.
“It allows anybody to go out and set up bait and train their dogs on bears. So there’s a possibility there may have been a great increase in the number of baits put out there and the number of dogs being used to train on bears,” Wydeven said.
MacFarland says it’s all speculation.
“There’s a number of factors that can influence conflict rates of any type including conflicts with dogs. Without firm data on what’s really driving those issues, we really don’t want to speculate,” MacFarland said.
Wolves are also attacking other animals. Preliminary data from the DNR shows that 42 cattle have been killed or injured by wolves this year, 26 sheep, two donkeys and eight pet dogs.
It all comes with a cost for Wisconsin taxpayers. Since 1985, the state has paid out more than $2-million to people whose animals were killed or injured by wolves, including $602,651 for hunting dogs and $1,134,650.73 for cattle and calves.
When asked why the state pays people whose animals are killed by wolves, MacFarland replied, “Wisconsin has a number of programs that provide compensation for wildlife-related damage. This isn’t unique to wolves.”
“The idea behind all of these programs are to ensure that those bearing the cost of having these species in the state aren’t disproportionally impacted,” MacFarland said.
Wydeven says he believes the compensation actually keeps people from killing wolves.
“Some of us feel that payments have probably benefited the wolf population discouraging people from taking matters into their own hands because they will be reimbursed for the loss of their dogs,” Wydeven said.
But the reimbursement to dog owners is capped at $2,500. Baudhuin, says that doesn’t come close to covering the full cost.
“It is nowhere near the value of the dog,” Baudhuin said.
While there may not be agreement about why the wolf attacks are happening, there’s one thing both sides agree on:
“Nobody wants to see dogs get killed and we all certainly hope that this isn’t a trend that continues,” MacFarland said.
Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in Wisconsin in 2012. The state had a wolf hunt for a couple of years but that changed in late 2014 when a federal judge put wolves back on the endangered species list. That means the state is not allowed to manage the wolf population. A wolf can only be killed if it is deemed a threat to human health and safety.
There are no known cases of humans being attacked by wolves in Wisconsin and the DNR says those types of attacks are extremely rare.