Friday, June 09, 2006

Wisconsin DNR: Wolves preyed on livestock on a record 25 farms last year

ROBERT IMRIE - Associated Press

WAUSAU, Wis. - Wisconsin's growing number of gray wolves killed or injured livestock on 25 farms last year - triple the number from four years ago, a state official said Wednesday. "We have been setting new records in the number of farms with depredation problems for the last four years," said Adrian Wydeven of the state Department of Natural Resources. "Luckily, we are able to get permits to trap and euthanize problem wolves." Among the 37 livestock killed by wolves in 2005 was an injured horse and two newborn colts, he said. The killing of horses by wolves has been rare, occurring only three times in previous years, Wydeven said. The most southern farm that lost livestock to wolves was near Westfield, in northern Marquette County, he said.

"We are starting to hear more concerns that people feel the population is too high," Wydeven said in a telephone interview from his office in Park Falls. "I am hearing more reports of people having kind of close encounters with wolves, where they either seem to follow them or stare at them from a distance or happen to get kind of close to them."

The wolf expert attributed it to the animal's curiosity or that some are becoming less fearful of humans, in part because people reportedly are leaving animal carcasses for them. The risk of a wolf hurting someone is still low, he said, but last fall, in northern Saskatchewan, Canada, a wolf killed a man who took a walk from a remote mining camp. "That is the first real documentation of a wild wolf attack in North America in the last 100 years," Wydeven said.

Wolf critic Jim Johnson Jr., 54, of Hixton in Jackson County, said the wolf populations must be reduced so livestock and pets aren't being slaughtered. "Problems on 25 farms is 25 farms too many," Johnson said. "We need to get the wolves back to a number where they are not going to be a nuisance. The days when the wolf could roam free is a thing of the past. There is just too many people here."

A late winter survey, based on tracking and monitoring of radio-collared wolves, estimates 465 to 503 wolves in 115 packs populate mainly the northern and central forest regions of Wisconsin - up about 7 percent from a year before, the DNR said. The state's goal is to have 350 wolves on lands it controls outside of Indian reservations.

Johnson said the DNR's wolf estimates are too conservative.

Dave Withers of Iron River, chairman of the wolf committee of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, said the growing number of farmers having to deal with livestock losses from wolves is alarming. "It tells me they are a nuisance. What else?" he said. His group believes Wisconsin should manage a population of about 100 wolves, which would eliminate many problems.

Last year, wolves also killed 17 dogs, of which 12 were hound dogs being used to hunt bears or in training to hunt bears, Wydeven said.

The wolf is a native species that was wiped out in Wisconsin by the late 1950s after decades of bounty hunting. Since the animal was granted protection as an endangered species during the mid 1970s, wolves migrated into the state from Minnesota and their numbers have been growing ever since. Minnesota has the largest wolf population in the lower 48 states at around 2,400.

Wolves killed livestock, primarily cattle, on 22 Wisconsin farms in 2004, 14 farms in 2003 and eight farms in 2002, the DNR said. Last year, $72,355 was paid to compensate people for losses due to wolf killings and injuries, Wydeven said. In addition, 29 wolves were trapped at 14 farms and euthanized under a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The DNR has federal authority to euthanize 43 problem wolves this year and so far seven have been trapped and killed, the wolf expert said. The state is seeking more flexibility in dealing with the problems, but that can't happen until the wolf is removed from federal protection lists, a process that will take at least another year, Wydeven said. When the DNR developed its management plan for wolves in 1999, the agency expected all federal protections would be removed - called the delisting of wolves - within a year or two, giving the state complete say in the management of the animals, including the setting of hunting or trapping seasons, Wydeven said.

Instead, some people are dealing with wolf problems themselves, given that livestock losses are just the "tip of the iceberg" of problems caused by the predators, said Eric Koens, who has a herd of 100 beef cattle in Rusk County and is director of the Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association.

The DNR reports at least 13 wolves were killed illegally last year, including two shot during the turkey hunting season in Price and Sauk counties.

"There was a lot more than that I'll tell you right now," Koens said. "Those were the ones they found."

  • Duluth News Tribune