Wolves remain under endangered species status
Many in Wisconsin were disappointed that Congress did not restore wolves to state management under the recent federal budget bill. This means that wolves remain under the status of endangered species, APHIS cannot provide lethal controls for farm animal depredations, and a season cannot be held to reduce wolf numbers.
A panel of international experts has evaluated wolves, and finds it to be a "species of least concern." For comparison, the American Bison is rated as "near threatened". Wolves are not an endangered species, and never have been. The most widely distributed large predator, wolves continue to occupy 2/3 of their traditional areas.
While wolves were delisted, APHIS was able to provide lethal response, and we saw the farm depredations fall precipitously. While not a scientific measure of success, the depredation list may be one indication of progress under state wolf management.
In 2010, while wolves were under endangered species status and lethal controls were not allowed, there were 108 confirmed or probable wolf depredations for farms, pets, and hunting dogs. There were 16 harassment/threats, and 6 of these were human safety concerns.
Skip to 2012, the first year wolves were delisted and a lethal response was an option, and we see farm/pet/dog depredations fall to 63. The decline may have had nothing to do with wolf numbers, as the minimum overwinter wolf count (not the actual population, but the actual wolves seen by tracking) was 704 in 2010, and 815 in 2012. During 2012, we saw 32 harassment/threats, including 7 related to human safety.
In 2013, when the wolf count was down to 809 after the first hunting season, farm/pet/dog depredations remained steady at 65, while harassment/threats fell to 21, with 6 being related to human safety.
The last year lethal controls and a season were available (2014) saw depredations fall again, after a larger season take in the fall of 2013. The minimum wolf count was 660, and the farm/pet/dog depredations went down to 53, including 25 farm incidents. The harassment/threats were 16, with 5 being threats to human safety.
Finally, 2015 saw the wolves again under the endangered species act, and with a modest harvest the previous fall, the minimum count rose about 13% to 746. No lethal controls were available, and no harvest season in 2015. Confirmed and probable wolf depredations on farms, to pets, and to hunting dogs soared back up to 76, with 50 of these being farm depredations. Harassments and threats remained at 15, with 8 being threats to human safety.
What can individuals do to reverse the recent trend?
We can all communicate to our Congressional representatives to continue to seek ways to restore state management of wolves including a harvest season and lethal controls by APHIS. These methods have worked well in Idaho and Montana, which were given the authority to manage their wolves by Congress back in 2011. After 6 seasons of state management, their total wolf population has fallen by only 100 in both states.
The Wisconsin DNR accepts wolf sightings on their web page. If you see wolves or tracks, go to the DNR main page and type "wolf management" into the subject line. Click on the subject "submit a wolf sighting" and fill out the form. Your sighting will be used to direct tracking efforts, or be used as part of the minimum count (Dec. through March) if you are able to furnish evidence such as photos of animals or tracks. Be sure to include something to show track size.
On the wolf management page, you will notice a listing of depredations. There is the dog page, the general depredations, and the map. Viewing the general depredation listing can be informative. The public can order the wildlife service's investigation form by contacting depredation staff Bradley.Koele@wisconsin.gov
Do you know what to do if you suspect a wolf depredation? Call APHIS (1-800-228-1368 northern district; 1-800 433-0663 southern district) immediately. They should respond within 48 hours. Do what you can to preserve the evidence.
In addition to the Farm Bureau and Farmer's Union, thirty-three county boards have now approved resolutions to reduce the wolf population. There must be some middle ground to this issue so that a limited number of wolves can live in peace in WI. We hope you will decide to get involved.