Waupaca, Wis. Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (NRB) members
have decided to informally inform the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) that the state is interested in viewing the timber
wolf as a furbearer, a status that would eventually allow the
hunting and trapping of wolves.
That decision came at the board’s meeting in Waupaca on June 25
after board members heard from Signe Holtz, the DNR’s Bureau of
Endangered Resources director. Holtz was asked to address the board
following questions raised at the May meeting by NRB chairman Trig
Solberg and Conservation Congress chairman Steve Oestreicher.
Solberg and Oestreicher questioned the DNR’s statewide wolf
estimate, the agency’s ability to handle and pay for livestock and
pet losses, and the timber wolf’s status as a game or nongame
species. Holtz’s June 25 presentation touched on the latter subject
while reviewing the federal and state wolf delisting process.
Holtz said the FWS reclassified wolves from endangered to
threatened in April, and also published its intent to fully delist
wolves in the future probably by 2005. The April change in status
allowed the DNR to begin killing problem wolves. Holtz said the DNR
has killed four wolves so far, three from the Fornengo farm in
Burnett County, and one on a farm in Barron County. Another
livestock loss was reported and USDA Wildlife Services trappers
also attempted to catch wolves on that farm, but were unsuccessful.
Holtz said that incident was likely a single dispersing wolf,
because no other livestock losses occurred on that farm.
“It looks like that wolf just stopped by for lunch,” she
Holtz told the board there are two ways it could communicate
with the FWS on this matter. She said an official petition would
bog down the delisting process because the FWS would essentially
view the state’s interest in calling the wolf a furbearer as a
change in the state’s wolf management plan.
She said a petition also is viewed by the FWS in a legal light
that would require FWS personnel to take certain steps in forming a
response. All of that takes time, she said.
Holtz recommended sending an informal letter, which would
require no action by the FWS.
“DNR actions influence Fish and Wildlife Service actions. Right
now, the FWS is comfortable with the state’s plan,” Holtz said.
“More than half of the FWS budget is used up on lawsuits, just to
give you an idea of what they’re dealing with around the country.
Right now, the FWS has received seven notices that it will be sued
in delisting wolves from endangered to threatened. If we file a
formal petition (in this matter), it will just take more time,” she
Holtz suggested going ahead with the state’s current delisting
plan, which does not view wolves as a game animal or furbearer,
allow the FWS to continue its delisting process, and once that’s
done, find a state legislator or legislators who are willing to
draft a bill that changes the wolf’s status.
NRB member Jim Tiefenthaler of Waukesha asked if the DNR could
change the wolf’s status in Wisconsin without affecting the
delisting process. Holtz said the FWS does not have a “furbearer”
category. She also said making such a change in Wisconsin would
require legislative action; it could not be handled by DNR
“It still makes no sense not to let them know what we intend to
do,” Tiefenthaler said.
“A letter would be fine, but I recommend no petition. That would
have legal standing,” Holtz said.
NRB member Herb Behnke of Shawano said it might be too early to
begin seeking furbearer status for wolves, if the FWS doesn’t have
“Maybe we should put this on the shelf at the present time,” he
“The letter shouldn’t mention furbearer’ at all because it
doesn’t mean anything to the FWS,” Holtz said.
Earlier in the meeting, Holtz told the board that the DNR plans
on coming to the board at its August meeting to request permission
to schedule public hearings to remove wolves from the state
endangered species list.
After the meeting, Tiefenthaler said he expects the DNR to have
a handle on this year’s wolf pup production by that meeting.
Tiefenthaler and Solberg suspect the DNR’s statewide wolf
population estimate is below the actual population.
“I think the credibility gap (on the DNR’s wolf estimate) is on
the same plane as the deer credibility gap, especially in the
north,” Tiefenthaler said. “So many people are seeing so many
wolves and in areas where the DNR says there are no wolves.”
Tiefenthaler mentioned the male wolf hit by a car in Waukesha
County this spring.
Also, on May 28, an 82-pound male wolf was shot in Door County
on private land between Mud Lake and North Bay. The man who shot
that wolf thought it was a coyote and will not be charged,
according to Door County conservation wardens.
Another wolf, this one a black wolf, was videotaped in Door
County in early May by a turkey hunter.
“Right now, the mood of the state is that hunting and trapping
is necessary. We want to use both as control methods, rather than
having government agents trapping them,” Tiefenthaler said. “We
will go forward with the letter to the FWS in that regard. We want
them to know that it is our desire to hunt and trap wolves as a
fur-bearing species. When we do petition them for delisting, it
will be part of the management plan. It is not part of the plan
In an interview before the meeting, Solberg said he believes the
DNR is underestimating the number of wolves.
“I’m not against wolves. I think there is room in our ecosystem
for them, but we have to be able to control the numbers,” he said.
“We’re going to have to make some hard decisions on this and he
(DNR wolf biologist Adrian Wydeven) is going to have to have some
hard evidence, and much better evidence than I’m seeing right now,
or in a year or two we can have a real mess on our hands.”