Friday, June 09, 2006

Wisconsin wolf population shows moderate increase

Overwinter population estimated at 465 to 500 animals

MADISON – Using a combination of track surveys, monitoring of radio-collared animals and reported observations, state wildlife biologists estimate that the gray wolf population in Wisconsin was in the range of 465 to 502 animals at the end of the 2005-2006 winter. The population includes 115 packs and at least 12 loners and represents about a 7 percent increase from the 2004-2005 winter count of 435 to 465.

Biologists aided by volunteers have conducted annual wolf population surveys since the winter of 1979-80. Surveys are conducted by following snow covered forest roads noting wolf tracks in fresh snow and by locating and observing the 40 or so Wisconsin wolves currently wearing radio-collars.

The 2006 count includes 16 to 17 wolves occurring on reservations, leaving 449 to 485 wolves outside of Indian reservations, according to Adrian Wydeven, a conservation biologist and wolf specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin’s Wolf Management Plan calls for a population of 350 wolves outside of Indian reservations. “This puts the current population at about 100 wolves above the plan’s goal,” Wydeven said.

Wolves are currently listed as a protected wild animal by the state of Wisconsin. However, the federal government continues to list wolves as an endangered species.

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in March 2006, its intent to “delist” wolves in Wisconsin and adjacent states and return all management authority to the states. Public comments on the proposed delisting will be accepted until June 26. People can comment on the proposal through the agency’s Web site at (exit DNR).

The delisting could be finalized in late 2006 or early 2007.

“Wolves returned to Wisconsin by dispersing naturally from Minnesota in the mid 1970s after being extirpated for about 15 years,” says Wydeven. “No wolves were ever reintroduced by humans into Wisconsin. With state and federal protection, the wolf population has grown and spread across much of the forests of northern Wisconsin and the Central Forest region.”

Although illegal killing of wolves declined in the 1990s, wolves continue to be shot and trapped illegally. In 2005 at least 13 wolves were killed illegally in the state. Recently, two wolves were shot during the turkey hunting season in Price and Sauk Counties.

Ecological balance

The growing wolf population has provided ecological benefits for forest ecosystems, but at the same time has brought depredation concerns.

Biologists and foresters report an increase in number and kind of forest floor plants in some areas where wolves have either reduced or controlled deer numbers or have caused deer populations to disperse over a wider area. Reduced deer browsing has allowed some deer-preferred plant species to recover and a more normal balance of plant types to return.

In other areas, wolves have brought beaver populations into a better balance on the landscape reducing road flooding caused by dam building. Trout streams also have benefited from a reduced beaver population where reduced dam building has improved stream flows.

In 2005, wolves preyed on livestock at 25 farms, mostly in northern Wisconsin, killing 31 cattle, three horses and three sheep while injuring three cattle. This was an increase from 22 farms in 2004, and 14 farms in 2003. Wolves also killed 17 dogs and injured six dogs. Problem wolves were trapped by US Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services at 14 farms and 29 wolves were euthanized by special permit from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Trapping of depredating wolves continues and so far in 2006, trapping efforts on four farms reporting wolf depredation has resulted in seven wolves being trapped and euthanized in northern Wisconsin. On June 1, attempts to trap a wolf or wolf-dog hybrid on a farm east of Wisconsin Dells were halted. There had been no reported activity or confirmed sign of the animal for the past two weeks. Had the animal been captured it would have been transferred to an educational facility in Minnesota that volunteered to house the animal. The animal killed one calf and injured another calf and a dog.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Adrian Wydeven (715) 762-1363

  • Wisconsin DNR