Wisconsin's gray wolf numbers grew in 2012
The state's gray wolf population grew four percent over year-earlier estimates of the state's wolf numbers, according to new numbers from Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), .
The agency, which is currently in the process of developing a plan for holding wolf hunting and trapping seasons, said the Wisconsin gray wolf population at the close of the 2011-12 winter was estimated to be as high as 880 animals.
Some northern Wisconsin residents, especially farmers who have experienced depredation from the predators, believe the number is even higher.
There were 42 wolves counted on Native American reservations, in addition to the range of 774-838 wolves counted outside reservations.
The long-standing population goal for the state has been 350 animals outside of the state's tribal reservations.
Any controls that would have kept wolf numbers in line with that goal were sidetracked for years by lawsuits brought by interest groups that wanted to keep wolves under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Once the gray wolf was removed from the protections of that federal law - in January 2012 - the state was once again given permission to institute its wolf management plan.
Management authority now lies with the DNR and the tribes for wolves in the state because Wisconsin is in what is called the Western Great Lakes region.
The gray wolf had been a protected animal from January 2004 and is now listed as a "game species."
Because numbers of wolves have risen so high during the ensuing years, a wolf hunt is being planned. The rulemaking process that will create the framework for that hunting season is underway and hunting could begin by this October.
With federal delisting and the wolf's new status as a "game species" in the state, controls will be applied to the wolf population "to reduce conflicts, and reduce the population to more socially accepted levels, while maintaining a sustainable and healthy wolf population," the DNR said.
State wildlife officials said the winter wolf count began in 1979-80 when there were 25 wolves in the state.
The annual count is based on aerial tracking of wolves wearing radio collars, snow track surveys done by DNR staff and volunteer trackers, and wolf sightings by citizens and members of other agencies.
Since trail cameras have become more numerous, images of wolves are also used to add information to the winter count.
According to DNR officials, a total of 213 wolf packs were evident in Wisconsin during the past winter. Biologists consider any two wolves living together as a pack.
The DNR found 51 packs across central Wisconsin and 162 packs in northern Wisconsin. At least 63 packs had five or more wolves in them.
The largest wolf pack in the state was the so-called Fort McCoy Pack in Monroe County, with 10 wolves.
Adrian Wydeven, the DNR's mammalian ecologist who coordinates the wolf count, says that volunteer trackers continue to be important in gathering this information.
The survey has been done since the winter of 1979-80 and volunteers have been instrumental to getting the right numbers since 1995.
"Volunteer trackers have become a critical portion of our surveys that have allowed us to obtain reliable estimates of the state wolf population in winter," Wydeven said.
"We hope to continue attracting citizens in helping to determine the annual population of wolves in the state." (See sidebar.)
Volunteer trackers who attend wolf ecology and carnivore tracking training are assigned survey blocks of about 200 square miles each, and are asked to conduct at least three good surveys of their block during winter.