By Rich Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio
Speakers at a “wolf summit” held in northern Wisconsin this week say the state’s wolf population is out of control and Congress must allow a hunt to protect livestock, dogs and residents.
Thursday’s Great Lakes Wolf Summit in Cumberland was organized by state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, and featured speakers including Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede, U.S. Department of Agriculture supervisory wildlife biologist David Ruid, a Michigan police chief, Bruce Mahler, and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife founder Don Paey.
The keynote speaker was Ted Lyon, a former Texas state lawmaker and trial attorney who helped remove wolves in western states from the federal Endangered Species List.
Groups opposed to wolf hunts, such as the Humane Society of the United States, said they offered to speak at the event but were denied.
The presentations that did take place called for Congress to pass legislation overturning a 2014 federal judge’s decision to place gray wolves in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota back on the endangered species list after they had been delisted in 2012. Many of the speakers focused on what they called negative impacts of keeping wolves on the list.
Mahler, who heads the police force in the Upper Peninsula town of Marenisco, claimed that wolves have become so prevalent in his community that they’ve killed dogs in backyards and are stalking residents and children.
“If I get a call and there’s a wolf and it’s a threat to a child or someone in my community I will shoot that wolf. Plain and simple,” he said.
That line drew strong applause from an audience full of livestock owners and bear hunters, some of whom testified about losing animals to wolves. Mahler suggested that if Congress doesn’t allow hunters to kill wolves and control the population, more people will be forced to shoot them illegally.
Douglas County Board Chair and Wisconsin Farmers Union member Mark Liebaert raises grass-fed beef cattle and said he’s lost calves to wolves but can’t do anything to stop them.
“The farmers up there have no options anymore,” Liebaert said. “If my neighbor’s dog comes over and starts chasing my cattle, state law allows me to shoot that dog, yet I could have a wolf attacking my calves and killing them and I can’t even confront it in a manner that would even make a problem for it. I can’t shoot it, I can’t harass it — and that is unacceptable.”
Of all the speeches, PowerPoint presentations and testimony, none called for keeping federal protections of gray wolves in the Great Lakes region.
Humane Society of the United States state director Melissa Tedrowe, who did not attend, suggested the event was more about politics than ecology.
“I’d say the goal of today’s summit was to showcase a minority opinion that’s totally out of step with the majority of Wisconsinites who appreciate wolves, who understand their ecological role and who want them protected and managed in a reasonable way, which wasn’t happening under state management,” she said.