By Paul A. Smith of the Journal Sentinel
Wolf depredations of livestock in Wisconsin have declined markedly since the state regained authority to manage gray wolves in 2012, according to a report from the Department of Natural Resources.
Since 2011, the number of calves killed by wolves in Wisconsin has declined 59% and the number of farms with wolf conflicts has dropped 28%, said Dave MacFarland, DNR large carnivore specialist, in a Wednesday presentation to the Natural Resources Board.
Through last week, only three adult or yearling cattle have been killed by wolves in the state this year and the number of wolf removal permits issued to landowners has dropped from 129 in 2012 to 47 this year.
The number of wolves lethally removed in “conflict situations” declined from 65 in 2013 to 35 so far this year.
“We see those as positive developments in our depredation control program,” MacFarland said.
The wolf was removed from protections of the federal Endangered Species Act in January 2012. Since then, Wisconsin has been able to employ lethal and non-lethal wolf depredation controls. It also has held a wolf hunting and trapping season to allow a public wolf harvest.
Most wildlife professionals see targeted controls at depredation sites as the most effective means of reducing livestock kills by wolves. General hunting and trapping seasons can reduce the wolf population but don’t necessarily address nuisance animals.
The 2014-’15 Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping season ended Dec. 5 with 154 wolves registered, four over the statewide quota for non-tribal harvest. Three wolf management zones were over pre-established harvest quotas and three were under.
The final data by zone is: Zone 1, 36 wolves harvested out of a quota of 32; Zone 2, 29 out of 15; Zone 3, 30 out of 40; Zone 4, 5 out of 8; Zone 5, 18 out of 20; and Zone 6, 36 out of 35.
For the season, the wolf harvest was composed of 87 male and 67 female animals, MacFarland said. The DNR sold 1,129 resident and 10 non-resident wolf hunting and trapping licenses. One thousand five hundred individuals were authorized to purchase a kill permit.
Trappers took 80% of the wolves, up from 70% in 2013 and 50% in 2012, MacFarland said.
The remainder of the wolf kill was attributed to hunters with firearms (22 wolves), hunters using dogs (six) and hunters using bow and arrow (three).
Hunters were able to use dogs to hunt wolves beginning Dec. 1. Wisconsin is the only state to allow the use of dogs in wolf hunting.
The wolf kill has slightly exceeded the harvest goal in each of the three seasons. Last year hunters and trappers killed 257 wolves, six over the quota, and in the inaugural season in 2012 117 wolves were registered, one over the quota.
Following two seasons of regulated wolf hunting and trapping designed to put “downward pressure” on the wolf population, Wisconsin had at least 660 wolves in late winter 2013-’14, down from an estimated high of 834 in 2012.
The wolf population roughly doubles after pups are born in spring, then begins to decline due to various sources of mortality.
The DNR is working to update the state’s wolf management plan. The working plan was written in 1999 and called for a population goal of 350.
MacFarland said a draft of the updated plan is scheduled for release to the public in early January. The DNR is planning a public input process from Jan. 15 to Feb. 28; it likely will include seven public meetings around the state. An online “virtual” meeting also is planned.
Ice safety: With temperatures forecast to climb above 40 degrees in most of Wisconsin this weekend, state conservation wardens are cautioning people who plan to venture onto frozen lakes and rivers.
“In all likelihood, the ice looks thicker — and safer — than it actually is,” said Todd Schaller, DNR chief warden.
Schaller said the best advice is, no matter the month, to consider all ice unpredictable.
Ice thickness may vary or snow cover may hide weak or honeycombed ice and water pockets.
“Let’s make sure your first outing isn’t your last,” Schaller said. “And take the time to educate your children about the dangers associated with frozen ponds, lakes and rivers.”
The DNR passed along the following ice safety tips:
■ Remember ice is never completely safe under any conditions.
■ Fish or walk with a friend. It’s safer and more fun.
■ Contact local sport shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish.
■ Carry a cellphone, and let people know where you are going and when you’ll return home.
■ Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a life jacket or a float coat to help you stay afloat and to help slow body heat loss.
■ Wear creepers attached to boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.
■ Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.
■ Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself — or others — out of the ice.
■ Do not travel in unfamiliar areas — or at night.
■ Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have currents that can thin the ice.