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Wisconsin man traps first Northland wolf near Brule

By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune

Keith Follis had hoped to run his trapline for at least a few days during Wisconsin’s wolf season. But his season ended just one day after he started trapping.

Follis, 51, of Brule, made nine trapping sets for wolves Friday morning, four days after Wisconsin’s first wolf hunting and trapping season opened on Oct. 15. On Saturday morning, he found a wolf in the third set he had placed, along a logging road south of Brule.

“The wolf wound up weighing 62 pounds,” Follis said. “But in the brush, it looked like 100 pounds. They’re a big animal. They’re real tall.”

Follis became one of 18 people to have shot or trapped a wolf in Wisconsin so far this fall. The state has set a maximum harvest of 116 wolves for state hunters. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates the state’s wolf population at 850.

“I think 18 wolves in the first week would certainly greatly exceed my expectations,” said Fred Strand, DNR wildlife biologist at Brule. “Those people who were successful had done their prep work and scouting work ahead of time so they knew where to be and what to do.”

Ten wolves of the 18 taken in Wisconsin were taken by hunters and eight by trappers. The wolves were taken in 14 different counties.

The state’s wolf hunting and trapping season continues through Feb. 28.

Howard Goldman, director of the Minnesota Humane Society, fears the hunt in Wisconsin will create a tipping point for the population. He said the quota on wolves will likely be met and, with illegal kills and legal kills for wolves stalking farm animals, it’s likely that half of the population will be lost by February.

“I think the population will crash,” Goldman said.

The Humane Society has filed a lawsuit asking that protection fall under federal regulation again.

He said Wisconsin and Minnesota have entered into hunts without enough study on the impact of new rules like the ability to kill a wolf if property is deemed in jeopardy. Wisconsin took over management of the state’s gray wolves Jan. 27, when the species was removed from the federal Endangered Species List.

“What is the rush?” Goldman asked. “It took 38 years for the wolf population in Wisconsin to recover. What is the rush?”

Follis’ wolf, caught in a No. 4 longspring leg-hold trap, was caught across the pad of a front paw. It was alive, as wolves usually are when found in leg-hold traps.

“She was jumping around,” Follis said.

The wolf had dragged the trap, along with a drag chain and a metal hook, about 80 yards from where the trap had been set. In such sets, the wolf typically drags the trap, along with the chain and hook, until the chain or hook becomes ensnared on brush or a tree.

After Follis found the wolf, he quickly shot it in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.

Follis’ father estimated the wolf to be about 2 years old. Buck Follis, 73, is well-known as a former trapper in the Brule area. In addition to his private trapping, he also trapped animals for the DNR and has trapped wolves for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so they could be radio-collared. The fact that he could be with his son when he trapped a wolf was meaningful to both men, said Keith Follis’ wife, Jennifer.

“There were a lot of dynamics there,” she said. “Father and son with an opportunity to trap a wolf. The way they look at it, they’ll never get to do this again in their lives.”

Hunters and trappers must be selected in a lottery before they can buy a wolf hunting or trapping license. Buck Follis had applied for a license but was not chosen in the lottery. But he was there to share the experience, and his trapping knowledge, with his son.

“He was proud, very proud,” Keith Follis said of his dad.

Keith Follis, who buries fiber-optic cable underground for living, traps a lot of beavers under the ice of beaver ponds. He sometimes sees wolf tracks in the snow on those ponds.

“When I’d see a couple of those tracks, I always thought I’d like to catch one someday if I could,” he said. “I like wolves. I’m not a wolf hater. Anything we trap, from the get-go you respect the animals you go after.”

To trap the wolf, he placed a “flat set,” as opposed to a set in a hole, along the road. He put scent on the trap, then put about an 8-inch-high rock behind the set and two sticks alongside the set. The placement of the rock and the sticks increase the chance that the wolf will step in the trap. Trappers try to catch wolves by a front paw, and that’s exactly how things unfolded for Follis.

The Follises plan to have the wolf’s hide tanned to hang in their home, Keith Follis said.

“We’ll hang it on the wall,” he said. “It’ll be kind of special, something me and my dad did together.”