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WI: Learn about wolves in Wisconsin and pursuit of the elusive musky at expert Sports Show panels

Paul A. Smith,
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Two of Wisconsin’s most charismatic and sometimes controversial native species – the gray wolf and the muskellunge – will take center stage during seminars at the 2019 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show.

The top predators will be the subject of presentations and panel discussions featuring state and regional experts with the opportunity for questions from the audience.

The wolf seminar is titled “40 Years of Wolves in Wisconsin – What We Have Learned.” It will be begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 9 at the seminar stage at the Wisconsin Exposition Center at State Fair Park.

Gloriann Klein of Wolf Info Now organized the session and invited the participants. Klein is a wolf educator; Wolf Info Now will be at booth #1442 at the show.

The first portion of the seminar will feature a presentation titled “40 Years of Wolves in Wisconsin: Learning to Live with Large Carnivores” by Scott Walter, large carnivore specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and David Ruid, wildlife biologist and assistant district supervisor with U.S. Department of Agriculture, APHIS-Wildlife Services based in Rhinelander.

At about 1:45 p.m., a panel discussion featuring several of the state’s foremost authorities on wolves will be held.

The panel will include Walter and Ruid, as well as Tom Hauge and Tim Van Deelen.

Hauge is a board member with the conservation organization Wisconsin Green Fire and former director of the DNR’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. He retired in 2016 after 25 years as DNR wildlife director. From 2012-’14, he oversaw the agency’s management of wolves when the species was delisted.

Van Deelen is the Beers-Bascom professor in Conservation and professor in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at UW-Madison. Much of his work relates to conservation of wildlife populations in the face of human influences.

Native to Wisconsin, the wolf was aggressively targeted by farmers and others from the 19th to the mid 20th century. Bounties were placed on the animals and virtually any method, including poison, was implemented to reduce their numbers.

After wolves received protection, including through the federal Endangered Species Act, their numbers began to increase in the Upper Midwest.

The wolf population in Wisconsin was estimated at 25 in 1980, 34 in 1990, 248 in 2000, 704 in 2010 and a record high of at least 925 animals in 2017, according to DNR reports.

And last year Wisconsin had a minimum of 905 wolves and 238 wolf packs, according to the 2017-’18 winter tracking survey performed by the DNR and volunteers.

The 2017-’18 data showed a 2 percent decrease in wolf numbers from the previous year and could be a sign the population of the apex predator is leveling off.

“It’s possible wolves have filled the suitable habitat in Wisconsin,” said Walter, DNR large carnivore specialist, in a 2018 interview with the Journal Sentinel. “It’s been anticipated the population would stabilize, but it’s one year of data and we’ll need more before we can make such a conclusion.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delisted the wolf several times in the last two decades in Wisconsin and surrounding states, only to have the moves overturned through legal challenges and federal judges.

The species is currently protected under the Endangered Species Act due to a December 2014 decision by a federal judge.

While many state residents support high wolf numbers, the inability for the state to use lethal measures to control the animals also generates frustration and anger among others.

Farmers who sustain livestock depredations and hound hunters who have their dogs killed by wolves are among the chief proponents of a lower wolf population.

During the most recent period of delisting (2012 -’14), Wisconsin held its first modern-era wolf hunting and trapping seasons, killing 117, 257 and 154 wolves, respectively.

The wolf population showed a decline during the brief period of state management. The December 2014 federal judge ruling has prevented additional wolf harvest seasons in Wisconsin.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to once again get the wolf delisted in the Upper Midwest.

Wisconsin’s other top, toothy predator – the musky – will be the subject of a panel Sunday, March 10 with Hall of Fame anglers Joe Bucher, Bob Mehsikomer and Spence Petros.

The men will give their thoughts on techniques to catch the fabled “fish of 10,000 casts,” their favorite musky fishing destinations and modern musky management programs.

The musky panel will run from 12:30 to about 1:15 p.m.

Attendees at both seminars will have the opportunity to submit questions to the expert panelists.

Both will be held at the seminar stage, located in meeting rooms 1 and 2.

If you go

What: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show.

When: Wednesday-Through Sunday.

Where: State Fair Park, Wisconsin Exposition Center, S. 84th St. and W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis.

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $9 at the door; $7 in advance at Children 12 and under free when accompanied by an adult