Addressing the ‘wolf’ in the room

Ryan Klussendorf
Taylor County dairy farmer
Wisconsin DNR reports that the wolf population has grown from 14 wolves in 1985 to more than 900 in 2018.

Wisconsin DNR reports that the wolf population has grown from 14 wolves in 1985 to more than 900 in 2018. This remarkable comeback is due in part to education, legal protection and habitat protection efforts through the DNR. This is an exceptional success story of many stakeholders working together on a collaborative effort.

To put this recovery into perspective, the DNR’s 1999 state management plan outlined a goal to have a wolf population of 250 prior to being delisted from the Endangered Species List and to then grow that to 350 wolves as an overall management goal. This number was calculated based on the available habitat within the state and understanding of how individual wolves and packs of wolves interact. As with anything else, more is not always better. There is a point where the population exceeds available space, known as carrying capacity, which is not good for the wolves nor the people and livestock living near wolf packs.

Once a species is placed on the Endangered Species List, there is nothing put in place to ensure removal when that species has reached a recovery goal. Because of the remarkable population growth, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments about a proposal to remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List across the lower 48 United States.

With the most recent state wolf population numbers pushing upwards of 900 wolves, we have reached the point where we need the ability to manage the population to ensure health and sustainability for the future. Delisting the gray wolf and returning management control to our state is long overdue.

As a farmer in northern Wisconsin, I have personal experience with the challenges faced when cohabitating with wolves and owning a dairy farm. To be perfectly clear, I support the fact that wolves are native to our state and we need to maintain a healthy population. I also desire the ability to protect myself, my family and my cattle from wolf attacks.

This topic is an emotional one for me after having endured multiple wolf encounters with my herd of dairy cattle that lead to increased stress on my family, farm and ultimately ended in the tragic loss of one of my cows due to a wolf attack.

I will never forget the morning that I walked out to the pasture to find my cows acting a little “off.” There had been a few other times that the cows were acting different than normal, but I could never figure out what was going on. My heart nearly stopped when I saw one of the cows bloody and mangled like something straight out of my worst nightmares. We called a USDA wildlife specialist who came out to the farm and confirmed it was a wolf attack.

This attack happened eight years ago, but it still impacts my daily thoughts and actions. This is something that has changed our entire management style on the farm. Since the gray wolf is listed as an endangered species, I am not able to defend my livestock against a wolf attack. That resulted in me not keeping our young animals on pasture at all and bringing the cows to a pasture closer to our house overnight. I constantly keep a close eye on my kids and constantly worry about when the next attack might happen.

These actions have been financially stressful for our farm. It now takes about an extra $30,000 each year to raise our young animals since I no longer feel safe leaving them on pasture. This has also been emotionally stressful as I catch myself listening more intently at night and often wake up from routine noises like the ice maker in the fridge, thinking that something has gone wrong.

This problem is not isolated to my farm. I have talked with several other Wisconsin farmers who have had similar issues. In fact, some farmers deal with recurring wolf attacks where the wolves simply kill livestock for fun, not for food. There are several instances of wolves killing livestock and leaving the whole animal lay in the pasture, proving the kill was not necessary for survival.

The Endangered Species Act is intended to protect animals that are on the brink of extinction, which at one point certainly applied to the gray wolf. Unfortunately, there are not clear steps to delisting species once they have made a successful recovery.

I encourage you to submit comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supporting the removal of the gray wolf as an endangered species. You can submit comments by visiting www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/ before the July 14 deadline.

I will be sharing my story and I would greatly appreciate your support in also submitting comments in favor of removing the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List. This is the right choice to ensure a healthy population is maintained within our state and to provide a sense of security to rural residents and farming families like mine.