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WI: Wolf management issues will be focus of presentation and panel at Sports Show

Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The gray wolf, a native species that has substantially increased in number in Wisconsin in recent decades and generates strong emotions among the public, will be the focus of a presentation and panel discussion at the 2020 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show.

The session will begin with a presentation by Adrian Wydeven titled “Ma’iingan, the wolf returns to Wisconsin: History and future of Federal, State and Tribal management.” 

A panel discussion will follow titled “Wolves in Wisconsin – the next chapter,” with an emphasis on views and issues related to the potential delisting of wolves in the western Great Lakes region. 

Wolves have been protected under provisions of the Endangered Species Act since December 2014.

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a delisting process March 15, 2019. The agency is expected to announce its next step soon.

Wydeven will be joined for the panel discussion by: Peter David, wildlife biologist with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission; David Drake, professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Dan Hirchert, director of USDA Wildlife Services Program; and Randall Wollenhaup, wildlife biologist of Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe. 

Wydeven headed up the wolf program for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from 1990-2013, a period that spanned relatively low wolf numbers through delisting and two years of public wolf hunting and trapping.

Adrian Wydeven, retired DNR wolf biologist, will appear at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show to give a presentation on the Wisconsin wolf population and take part in a panel to discuss possible delisting of the species.

Adrian Wydeven, retired DNR wolf biologist, will appear at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show to give a presentation on the Wisconsin wolf population and take part in a panel to discuss possible delisting of the species. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Adrian Wydeven)

He retired in 2015 after a 33-year career with the agency.

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 minimum count of 914-978 in 2019.

The 2019 wolf count, which represented a 1% increase from the previous year, included 243 packs, a year-over-year increase of five.

The winter assessment is performed when the wolf population is at its annual low and when the animals are easiest to track and observe. The population is estimated to double each year after pups are born, then decline through the year due to various sources of mortality.

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.

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 #1541 at the show.

“The wolf has made a remarkable recovery, but still faces challenges of sustainability in a changing landscape,” Klein said.

She said the Sports Show wolf program and panel were designed to provide a forum that invites public participation in constructive dialog on Wisconsin wolf conservation issues.

“This is an opportunity to reach a wide and diverse audience and invite people to have an informative conversation about wolves and wolf behavior, including how it pertains to Wisconsin wolf management,” Klein said.