More wolf issues
Rexton, Mich. — “I’ve been close to a lot of animals like bear and never been scared of an animal in my life,” 23-year-old Jordan Farmer told Michigan Outdoor News.
An unnerving encounter with wolves last month while hound hunting with buddies near Trout Lake has changed the Wetmore resident’s perspective on running his dogs in the Upper Peninsula.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Farmer said, “it freaked me out, it really did.”
Farmer and two of his hunting buddies were running a bear with hounds off Caffee Road in Trout Lake Township when his GPS showed one of his dogs, a 14-month-old blue tick named Duke, had fallen behind and didn’t make it to the bear.
“I watched on the GPS and my dog wasn’t moving anymore,” he said. “I just figured he fell off (the chase) and continued on with the hunt. Finally, when he still hadn’t moved, I went in to find him.”
Tracking Duke by GPS, Farmer yelled for his dog from about 100 yards away. There was no response.
“I get within 50 to 70 yards and there were two wolves, staring at me,” Farmer said. “They came right at me, 20 yards from me, and they sat there and stared at me and came closer and closer.”
Farmer said he screamed, waived his arms and threw sticks. The wolves were not intimidated.
Farmer noticed a blowdown behind him and decided to get to higher ground.
“I got up on it and I don’t know what happened. I turned around and they were gone,” he said.
Farmer, shaken from the experience, returned to his truck and retrieved his gun, then went back into the woods to look for Duke. When he made it back to the area the wolves were gone, and so was most of his dog – stripped to bone from his collar to his hind quarters.
Gaylord hound hunter Vance Gawel experienced virtually the exact same scenario months earlier while running hounds in the Trout Lake area – about 4 miles west of the October incident – on July 31, during the training season.
“We were just training like normal, running a bear. The bear crossed the road and I turned in a dog about 200 yards behind,” Gawel said.
He soon realized his 10-month old treeing walker Chief was no longer following several other dogs already on the bear’s trail.
“I went back in and tracked him with my GPS,” Gawel said.
A wolf met him well before he reached Chief and made it clear Gawel wasn’t going any farther.
“He had an excited look in his eyes,” said Gawel, who was unarmed and also attempted to scare away the animal to no avail. “That wolf followed me about 150 yards back until I got to my buddy. He kept flanking me, I’d see him every 20 yards or so.
“There was two times I considered climbing but he never got within 10 yards,” Gawel said. “It was wild. In 25 years hunting with dogs haven’t been in a situation like that.
“I’m definitely going to carry a shotgun from now on, but I’m not hunting that area anymore.”
When Gawel finally recovered Chief, the carcass was stripped clean save the dog’s head and GPS collar, he said.
These incidents come as officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Wyoming continue to pursue efforts to remove gray wolves from federal endangered species protection, which limits state management to nonlethal methods, except in the defense of human life.
All three Great Lakes states briefly gained management control over the animals when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from the endangered species list in January 2012 – which gave state officials the authority to hold hunts to manage wolf populations or kill problem wolves – but a lawsuit filed by anti-hunters to block the move resulted in a December 2014 court decision to return them to federal protection.
Michigan and Wisconsin held hunts in 2013 to keep wolf populations in check after years of hunting dog deaths and livestock depredations, and Michigan hunters took about two dozen wolves.
Wildlife officials in all four states are now working with hunting groups and others to appeal the federal court ruling while simultaneously pushing Congressional lawmakers to delist the animals through the legislative process.
Brian Roell, Michigan DNR biologist tasked with tracking the state’s wolf population, said the two hounds killed near Trout Lake are the only two that have been reported to state officials this year. In 2015, three dogs were killed by wolves, and 17 were killed in 2014 and 2013, according to DNR records.
Roell said there’s little state officials can do to deter wayward wolves without management authority, and wolves that kill dogs or livestock often repeat their behavior.
A computer analysis of wolf population estimates and wolf attacks “shows there isn’t a correlation” to hunting dog deaths, “unlike with livestock depredations where there is a correlation,” Roell said.
“There has been kind of an uptick in depredations compared to 2015,” he said. “We are at an increase but the bulk of it has been on one farm where we’ve had continued problems.”
So far in 2016, 37 livestock – mostly cattle – have been killed by wolves in 24 events, with well over 75 percent of the attacks at one farm in Ontonagon County.
Roell noted that unlike Wisconsin, Michigan does not reimburse hunters for dogs lost to wolves, so there’s little incentive for hunters to report the incidents.
In Wisconsin, the state pays hunters up to $2,500 for any dog killed by wolves, and officials there are receiving a record number of claims in 2016.
“We’ve had a pretty active year, unfortunately,” said Dave MacFarland, Wisconsin’s large carnivore specialist. “We’ve had 40 dogs killed this year. It’s the highest we’ve ever had.”
The previous peak was 23 dogs killed in 2013 and 2006. Last year, 22 dogs were killed by that state’s roughly 880 wolves.
“Overall, the dog complaints are certainly higher and the livestock complaints are trending upwards compared to last year,” he said, adding that he believes a hunt in 2013 helped keep the population in check.
“We had a fairly significant reduction in livestock-related complaints during the time we had management authority,” MacFarland said. “They were down 40 to 45 percent, depending on the metric, and now they’re trending back up.”
MacFarland said it’s difficult to compare statistics with Michigan for many reasons, including a larger number of both wolves and hound hunters in Wisconsin, a longer dog training season, and a bigger geographic area where wolves roam.
Todd Boswell, a board member with the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, witnessed the aftermath of Farmer’s unfortunate hunt in October, and said the experience has convinced him to encourage other hunters to file a report with the DNR if their dogs are killed by wolves.
Boswell and others believe there’s likely more dogs killed by wolves than the DNR is aware of, and highlighting the problem is one way they can advocate for renewed state control.
“When it happens to you it’s like your child being killed and eaten. It’s very traumatic,” Boswell said, adding that hound hunters invest more money and time in training their dogs than many folks realize.
Sharing those traumatic experiences can change the current conversation about wolf management, he said.
“It just feels like our federal government is only listening to the Humane Society (of the United States), the animal rights people,” Boswell said.
Farmer agrees, and said speaking out about what’s happening in the woods is likely the best way to change the conversation.
“What are we supposed to do? Anywhere you go in the UP it’s got wolves. There is nowhere that’s safe to hunt right now because of the wolves. You’d have to stop hunting to be 100-percent safe,” Farmer said.
“We just want something done. Something needs to be done because it’s out of hand.”