NRB OKs update of Wisconsin wolf plan

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

River Falls, Wis. — The Natural Resources Board has approved an
update of the state wolf plan, but members want to review the plan
every year.

“We’d like the (DNR) to present the plan to us each year so that
we have an opportunity to change or update it,” said Dave Clausen,
board member from Amery.

The plan concerned some board members and members of the public,
because the winter count estimated there were 465 to 502 wolves,
and the original plan suggested a goal of 350 wolves in Wisconsin,
with 500 the state’s biological capacity. With natural reproduction
this year, the total could reach 500 wolves, and board members
expressed concern about potential depredation problems.

From 1985 to 2002, the average rate of increase was 20 percent,
but from 2002 to 2006 the average increase was 9 percent.

Adrian Wydeven, DNR wolf biologist, said the DNR does have a
permit to euthanize problem wolves and has killed 10 wolves so far
this year. One concern, however, is how long the DNR will be able
to use the permit, as several groups are planning to sue the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (please see story on Page 6 of this
issue).

Wisconsin’s plan originally was approved by the NRB in 1999. The
DNR began its five-year review in 2004 that included meetings with
stakeholder and science committees, and questionnaires sent in by
more than 1,300 people.

The plan continues at the same levels; if the population falls
below 80 wolves, they would be considered a state endangered
species. If the estimate is 80 to 250 wolves, they would be
considered a state threatened species. Once the state population is
above 250, wolves are delisted by the state (no longer considered
endangered or threatened within the state). The federal government
also has classifications for endangered species, and state efforts
to control wolf numbers are on hold until the federal listing is
changed.

Wolves are now delisted by the state and considered to be a
protected wild animal.

“We are above our goal (of 350 wolves), and approaching the
carrying capacity,” Wydeven said. “The biological carrying capacity
is the number of wolves that could occur in the state if wolves
fully occupied all of the suitable habitat, which we estimate is
about 6,000 square miles.”

Jonathan Ela, board member from Madison, asked about the
consequences of exceeding the carrying capacity. Wydeven said that
if wolves or people are more tolerant, the carrying capacity could
be higher, but wolves cull themselves when populations reach
capacity.

“There is hope that even without drastically having to reduce
populations, once the population reaches the edge of suitable
habitat the population will become stable,” Wydeven said.

Survey volunteers found 115 packs this winter, most of which are
in Zones 1 (the northern third of the state) and Zone 2 (the
Central Forest Region).

Zone 3 is considered marginal for wolves, and includes many
western and central counties. Zone 4 is considered unsuitable for
wolves, and is the area south and east of a line from the
intersection of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers in southwest
Wisconsin up to Green Bay.

“We feel that the plan is serving us fairly well, though we made
minor changes,” Wydeven said.

The changes include increasing the distance of depredation
trapping in zones 1 and 2 to provide more flexibility in
controlling problem wolves. In zones 1 and 2 the plan allowed for
depredation trapping up to one-half mile from the loss site. That
will be extended to one mile.

The plan also continues protection at the den site (used from
mid-March to mid-June), meaning there can be no timber harvest or
new roads or trails within 110 yards of a den site, but past
protection at rendezvous sites are removed.

The new plan also updates monitoring information and updates
depredations through 2005, citing the environmental assessment
completed by Wildlife Services.

The plan does not make any changes in its level of 250 wolves
(outside of Indian reservations) as the goal for delisting wolves,
and 350 wolves (outside of reservations) as the state goal.

Also when wolf populations are over 250 there could be controls
allowed by landowners (once delisted by the USFWS) and above 350
allows active control by government trappers, and public harvest
may be considered. Once the state has management authority, a
landowner could shoot a wolf in the act of depredation and then
report it, or if a farm has a history of depredations the farmer
could obtain a permit to shoot a specific number of wolves during a
specific time period.

Ron Refsnider, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the
USFWS was sued when it changed its view of management of wolves
from all of the lower 48 states to three “populations,” which
included Wisconsin in the eastern population. The agency also
reclassified wolves in the eastern population from endangered to
threatened, which would have given the states more flexibility over
controlling wolves.

The courts ruled the USFWS could not do that, and the agency had
to go back to the drawing board. It now is looking at delisting
just the western Great Lakes population which includes Wisconsin,
Michigan, and Minnesota and portions of surrounding states as a
separate population.

“We think this is a solid proposal that is biologically based
and hopefully the judges will approve it,” Refsnider said.

The USFWS proposal to delist wolves based on the new map was
published in March, and comments were received in June. The USFWS
is analyzing the testimony and hopes to have a final decision by
March of 2007.

Refsnider acknowledged that the USFWS expects to be sued on its
delisting decision and on the depredation control permits that it
has issued to the Wisconsin and Michigan DNR’s.

The Wisconsin DNR received its permit to control depredating
wolves this past spring and so far has killed 10 wolves.

Five members of the public spoke to the board about the wolf
management plan revisions.

Jim Olson, representing the Sierra Club, supported the plan
updates, noting that the major area of concern is the increased
interaction between humans and wolves, especially depredations on
domestic animals.

“We feel that prevention is the key to predation,” Olson said.
“Innovative ways to prevent predation have to continue. When they
fail, control, including lethal control, is appropriate.”

He believes the current plan was working well.

“We depend on the wolf for the natural values it brings to
Wisconsin and it depends on us to develop a wise and reasonable
management plan,” Olson said.

Peter David, of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife
Commission, made a similar comment that the fortunes of the wolf
and Ojibwa people are interwoven, “and as one goes, so goes the
other. Both have been feared and misunderstood.”

Doug Moericke, of the Timber Wolf Alliance, said the alliance
does not advocate harvest, nor does it oppose it. It wants the wolf
to be managed based on scientific principles.

Jeff Lyons, of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, said the DNR’s goal of
350 wolves was being ignored by the DNR as the population
approaches the biological carrying capacity.

He said that he hoped Wydeven was right – that wolf numbers will
level out, but Lyons noted trends in deer and turkey populations –
and saw parallels with wolves increasing.

Eric Koens, representing the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association,
asked the board to add two reports regarding wolf/livestock
interaction to the management plan. The first report, “Negative
Impacts to Livestock Producers Caused by Gray Wolf Harassment of
Livestock,” was drafted by DNR Wolf Science Committee members, U.W.
Extension beef specialist Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, veterinarian Greg
Palmquist, and USDA biologist Bob Willging.

The report provides details on stress, abortions, animal
behavior factors, and the need for increased surveillance of
herds.

The second report was “Trends of Wolf/Livestock Depredation in
Wisconsin,” furnished by USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services.

“Actual Wisconsin wolf damage complaints are much higher than
the DNR estimates,” Koens said. “The original plan estimated the
costs to be $15,000 to $30,000 for Wildlife Services to respond to
wolf complaints once wolves reached their population goal, yet
Wildlife Services’ 2006 budget is over $380,000.”

Koens said it was important that wolf/livestock damage
information be included in the wolf plan, as an appendix.

NRB member Dan Poulson offered an amendment that would include
the reports Koens cited as an appendix in the plan. However the
amendment failed.

New NRB member Dave Clausen, a veterinarian from Amery, objected
to adding the reports as an appendix to the plan. But, he said, the
plan should be reviewed annually. The DNR originally wanted to
review the plan three years after federal delisting occurred, but
the board wanted to be sure the plan can be looked at each
year.

The board unanimously approved the plan, with the amendment that
the NRB review it each year.

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