Targeted wolf take set at 275

Wausau, Wis. — With a minimum wolf count roughly the same this year as last, despite the harvest of 117 wolves in the state’s first modern-day season, the Natural Resources Board had little trouble approving a 2013-14 wolf harvest quota of 275 animals.

That quota of 275 equals 35 percent of the lower end of the winter count, not including those wolves that are believed to spend time on Indian reservations.

The state’s six Chippewa tribes may claim up to half of the quota in the ceded territory. This year that would be 115 wolves, but as of the June 26 NRB meeting, the tribes had not contacted the DNR regarding a wolf declaration.

“I don’t know what it will be, if anything. We will have to wait to see what comes in and still try to achieve our management goals,” said Bill Vander Zouwen, DNR Wildlife Ecology Section chief.

Last season the state set aside a quota of 85 wolves for the tribes, but no tags were issued to tribal members. The harvest of 117 wolves by state-licensed hunters and trappers came in one wolf over the DNR quota of 116, but well under the overall quota of 201 that was set for the first wolf season.

Board members asked Vander Zouwen how the DNR will address the wolf population if the tribes do not harvest any part of their quota this season.

“If you approve a quota for 275 wolves, we have an obligation to try to meet that quota in our harvest. That’s what you’re expecting, that’s what the public is expecting,” he said. “We have to look at past (tribal) performance, and the leadership of the DNR will have to make a decision on what to set aside for the tribes.”

The DNR will issue harvest tags at a rate of 10 times the quota. The application deadline for this year’s wolf permits is Aug. 1.

Vander Zouwen said the agency expects about a 13-percent decrease in the minimum wolf count with that quota.

“That’s still conservative,” he said, noting that research shows that wolves can sustain a 30- to 35-percent annual loss before numbers start to drop.

“The objective is for a sustainable wolf population and to reduce the population,” Vander Zouwen said. “It’s a very diverse issue, and we recognize that. In my 30 years with the DNR, I never expected to be involved in wolf management.”

The DNR received wolf aging data in late June from the wolves harvested in the first season. About 50 percent of the wolves were young-of-the-year animals.

Only three of the wolves from which teeth had been collected were more than 3 years old. Those animals could have been alpha animals. Only four were age 2 or older.

“The wolf count is very similar to the previous year, there are a similar number of packs, and trackers did meet survey needs. All of the high- and medium-priority blocks were surveyed.

We had more than four counts for every pack, and we found 16 new packs,” Vander Zouwen said.

“It was interesting watching the harvest as it went along – the number of collared to uncollared animals,” said NRB member Christine Thomas, adding that the UW-Stevens Point wildlife dynamics class is using that harvest information as an informal wolf count.

“The question was whether or not hunters who use firearms selected against wolves wearing collars,” she said.

“Even with trapping, you could release a wolf with collar,” Vander Zouwen said.

Thomas said it would be interesting to find out how hunters and trappers treated collared wolves.

NRB member Greg Kazmierski asked if the DNR’s wolf committee had looked at increasing wolf harvest in the elk area.

“We haven’t talked about it much yet,” Vander Zouwen said. “The first two meetings were to come up with a quota, and right now we’re operating under the emergency rule, so we can’t ‘subzone.’ We can change that  in the permanent rule; we can decide how to zone the state, and the elk are one possibility. We just started on a revision of the management plan.”

The NRB also took public testimony on the quota proposal. The Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, and Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association all testified in favor of the quota, along with several individuals, including Laurie Groskopf, of Tomahawk. Mike Riggle is the new chairman of the Conservation Congress’s wolf committee. He said the congress has long supported managing wolves to a goal of 350.

“This is a highly charged and emotional issue on both sides, but you have to agree that the wolf population is a success story,” said Riggle, a veterinarian. “The Conservation Congress supports the harvest quota. We’re pleased that is 275, but that should be exclusive of tribal harvest.”

A number of speakers opposed not only the quota, but the season, as well.

“If we can stand 800 (wolves) up to last year, we can still stand 800,” said Melissa Smith, a new Conservation Congress delegate for Dane County. “There is evidence that wolves are good for the ecosystem. I can’t say that about hunters. I don’t support the quota. I do support a moratorium on the wolf season.”

The NRB unanimously approved the quota, with NRB member Jane Wiley noting that the board doesn’t have much wiggle room on the wolf season because the Legislature set the season in state law.

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