Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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NRB changes DNR wolf damage payment plan

Correspondent

Prairie du Chien, Wis. The Natural Resources Board (NRB) adopted
new rules for the payment of wolf-caused damages to livestock and
personal property, but not before the board modified rules proposed
by the DNR.

The board’s changes to the DNR proposal will allow the DNR to
reimburse people for damage caused by wolves to livestock, but
removes an earlier proposal of a $250 deductible on each claim. It
also removes a cap of $15,000 per claimant per year. In addition,
the board reduced the number of confirmed calf disappearances from
two to one before farmers can collect damages for missing
calves.

NRB members also attempted to remove the “five-mile” rule that
has been strongly opposed by dog hunters, but that motion failed on
a tie vote. The “five-mile” rule stayed in the revised rule
package, which now goes to the Legislature for review.

Wolf population estimate

DNR Bureau of Endangered Resources Director Signe Holtz said
that the official wolf count is now 425 to 450 wolves. That
increased slightly from the estimate of 373 to 410 wolves last
winter.

“This is the winter count. It is the lowest point in the
population during the winter prior to the breeding season,” Holtz
said. “Following breeding, the population will go up, but then it
goes down again in the fall as many pups die.”

The state plan, according to Holtz, shows a carrying capacity of
about 500 wolves, though the state’s “social carrying capacity” is
believed to be 350 wolves.

Livestock damages

The Endangered Resources Program has made payments without
permanent rules in the past because damages were small. Now that
wolves are increasing and there has been controversy over the
program, the NRB asked the DNR for a permanent rule for damage
payments.

The DNR’s proposal also creates a three-member committee
(Department of Agriculture, UW-Madison Extension School of
Agriculture, and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau) to set the maximum
amount the DNR will reimburse for each type of livestock.

The DNR’s proposal called for a $250 deductible per claim and a
cap of $15,000 per claimant per year. That position took a beating
during public hearings in February.

Holtz said two studies of public attitudes on wolves by the
University of Wisconsin-Madison and Northland College showed strong
support for payment for livestock losses.

The DNR asked the board to adopt its rule package, which allowed
the state to pay for missing calves, but only after having two
verified losses.

“We want to be sure that the loss is due to a resident pack, and
not where a transient wolf comes by and then leaves,” Holtz said.
“We pay for those verified losses, and want to be sure those losses
are due to wolves. No other state reimburses for missing
cattle.”

USDA Wildlife Services officials said they make the
determination of whether livestock was killed by a predator, and if
so, which predator killed the animal.

During public comment on the DNR proposal, Lisa Naughton social
scientist at UW-Madison, said a survey sent to 2,400 people who
contributed to the Endangered Resources Fund, which pays for
damages caused by endangered animals, showed strong support for
payment for livestock killed by wolves, but less support for
payments for hunting dogs lost to wolves.

Dave Withers, of Iron River, said the DNR’s program was not a
clear statement of “this is how and when we should pay for damages,
but instead was how and when we can avoid to pay.”

Jeff Lyon, of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, supported the proposed
rules with changes, but called for reducing the number of confirmed
wolf kills from two to one in order to qualify for payments for
missing calves.

Eric Koens, of the Wisconsin Cattlemens Association, said the
requirement of two verified losses was unrealistic and made no
sense.

“It only takes one verified loss to know that there are wolves
on the farm,” he said. He gave an example of a Barron County farm
experiencing chronic damage, with five missing calves. The farmer
was able to verify two calves were killed by wolves, but if the
owner hadn’t found the second calf, the owner would not have been
reimbursed.

“Coyotes are not big enough to drag these carcasses off, and
bears only are responsible for half of 1 percent of verified
losses,” Koens said.

John Welter, board member from Eau Claire, asked if the
cattlemens association would be satisfied with a requirement of one
verified loss for payment for missing calves. Koens said he thought
it was reasonable.

Gerry O’Brien, NRB chairman, questioned the need for farmers
receiving payments to be willing to participate fully in research
about wolf damage. Koens responded that landowners welcome research
on the problems, but many farms don’t lend themselves to research,
and it should be voluntary not mandatory.

Nancy Field, of the Timber Wolf Alliance, said the alliance
understands problems that livestock owners face and supports the
rule. It also supports killing depredating wolves.

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