Monday, April 14, 2008

Wolves in Wisconsin

Not to be confused with any Conservative Congress that might exist somewhere, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is tonight hosting a Spring Hearing and the Conservation Congress at the Alliant Energy Center (Exhibition Hall) in Madison.

If you have an interest in natural resources, conservation, hunting, fishing, trapping or outdoor recreation in Wisconsin then the Spring Hearings are for you.

On Monday, April 14, there will be 72 public hearings, one in each county starting at 7:00 p.m. where individuals interested in natural resources management have an opportunity to provide their input by non-binding vote and testimony to the Department of Natural Resources, Natural Resources Board and the Conservation Congress on proposed hunting and fishing rule changes and advisory questions.

County residents have the option to run for election to the Conservation Congress and to elect delegates from their county to represent their county views regarding natural resources on the Conservation Congress. Also, individuals have the opportunity to bring forth new conservation issues of a statewide nature to the attention of the Conservation Congress through the citizen resolution process.

It's great that we have this kind of opportunity for public participation in the state, and I hope a good many people come out for these events (locations for all other counties are here).

Perhaps the most controversial issues on the docket for this evening concern the gray wolf population of the state. In recent years, the species has made a rather impressive come-back. Estimates of the original wolf population in the state range between 3-5,000 animals, but those numbers were nearly eliminated as the state bounties for wolf kills increased during the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth. Wolves were and are blamed for livestock deaths and for dwindling deer populations, but, "Ironically, studies have shown that wolves have minimal negative impact on deer populations, since they feed primarily on weak, sick, or disabled individuals."

Farmers are concerned about wolves preying on their livestock. In northern Wisconsin, about 17 cases of wolf depredation occur per year, about half are on livestock and half on dogs. As the population continues to increase, slight increases in depredation are likely to occur. In Minnesota, with over 2600 wolves, there are usually 60 to 100 cases per year.

A few hunters continue to kill wolves, believing that such actions will help the deer herd. It is important to place in perspective the impact of wolves feeding on deer. Each wolf kills about 18 deer per year. Multiply this by the number of wolves found in Wisconsin in recent years (330), and approximately 5940 deer may be consumed by wolves annually. This appears as a fairly low when compared to over 40,000 deer hit by cars each year, and about 450,000 deer shot annually by hunters.

Up for vote at tonight's congress are two wolf-related laws: one that would lift a current ban on shooting wolves that are attacking a domestic animal if that attack were happening on public land, and one that would legalize the hunting of gray wolves and establish guidelines for those hunts.

The current wolf population in Wisconsin is estimated to be at just under 600. Considering that their numbers used to be in the thousands, I don't see how the current population would qualify for "control methods." It seems like allowing for hunting of a very recently endangered and still low numbered species is, pardon the wording, jumping the gun.

As for allowing them to be shot on public land if they're attacking a domestic animal? Frankly, it sounds weird to me, but I also don't have much perspective on that particular issue. Is it common for a farmer/rancher to graze their livestock on public land? And if so, how much of a threat is the occasional gray wolf? I honestly don't know.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with the idea of moving so quickly to cull the herd, so to speak, so soon after they're removed from the Federal Endangered Species List. We should be encouraging the continued strengthening of species we nearly hunted to extinction, not falling back on old habits.

EDIT TO ADD: You can participate and vote in the Conservation Congress so long as you show up with some proof of county residency.

(photo credit: Wisconsin DNR)


John A said...

Complete tangent, but rather than thinking of conservatives, I initially thought the title was a reference to Middleton's own Wisconsin Wolves, one of the state's two professional women's football teams. Go Wolves!

Also, DNR, don't let people shoot wolves.

That's all.

Emily said...

Maybe we can rally the team to fight against the hunting legislation. I think a pack of awesome, football playing women would totally put the fear of God into anyone who disagreed. ;)

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