Frank Vaisvilas Green Bay Press-Gazette
ODANAH – Tribal representatives and conservationists are asking to be included in any process that may decide the state’s response to the increasing gray wolf population.
They believe the animal might soon be removed from the federal list of endangered species, opening up hunting for population control or trophies.
“It’s really important that the tribes have a place at the table,” said Peter David, a biologist for the Odanah-based Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, during a recent conference on Zoom. “We’re not a special interest group.”
The commission represents 11 Ojibwe tribes in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan in their treaty rights to hunt, fish and harvest in ceded territory outside the reservations.
Ma’iingan, or the gray wolf, plays an important role in Ojibwe culture, David said. The Ojibwe believe that man arrived in the world after the rest of creation, but soon became depressed and lowly in spirit because he felt alone. The Creator then introduced man to the wolf and the two became brothers.
“This forms the foundation of the Ojibwe relationship with wolves today,” David said. “We consider the wolves’ best interests.”
He said tribal officials favor non-lethal methods in resolving conflicts wolves might have with the pets and livestock of people in and around forested areas where wolves hunt.
While the tribes can prohibit wolf hunting on their reservations, experts say wolf packs often travel through large tracts of hunting areas and can venture outside the reservation.
One possible solution would be to create a buffer zone outside the reservation where wolf hunting would be prohibited, said Adrian Wydeven, a biologist with the Rhinelander-based conservation group Green Fire.
Green Fire favors a scientific-based approach to guide the decision in how the wolf population should be managed.
Possible options would be to maintain the 2019 winter wolf estimated population in Wisconsin of about 900, go back to the state’s previous goal of 350 wolves or allow the wolf population to be naturally managed based on what the environment can support .Get the News Alerts newsletter in your inbox.
That goal of 350 was set as a number to reach when the wolf population was far below that amount and was not originally meant to be a quota, conservationists say.
After being reduced to a population of about 50 in the state because of over-hunting, the wolf has made a comeback in recent years after being on the federal endangered species list. The animal has been de-listed through the years but placed back on because of lawsuits.
Wydeven said it’s very likely the wolf will once again be de-listed and the administrative process for doing so probably would have already started if not for the pandemic.
He said a 2012 committee created under former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration had mandated the hunting of wolves, but had limited input from conservationists, scientists and tribal officials.
While an estimated total of 1% of livestock are killed by predators, such as wolves, bears and coyotes in Wisconsin, Wydeven said some farmers are more affected than others.
“For some farmers (the loss) can be high,” he said. “Some can lose as much as 25 calves.”
Wolves, though uncommon, can enter into a killing frenzy when among domesticated animals that do not run away, experts say. Non-lethal solutions include the use of fencing, guard dogs or even red flags around a pasture that wolves seem to respect the boundaries of.
Wydeven said there’s some evidence that wolves play a large role in the balance of the ecosystem. For example, wolves will target animals, such as deer, elk, reindeer and moose, with chronic wasting disease before it can affect the rest of the herd, he said.
Wolves also will encourage animal populations not to linger in a particular part of a forest, which may help in its replenishment.
Frank Vaisvilas is a Report For America corps member based at the Green Bay Press-Gazette covering Native American issues in Wisconsin. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter at @vaisvilas_frank. Please consider supporting journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible gift to this reporting effort at GreenBayPressGazette.com/RFA.