Recently the Department of Natural Resources updated its wolf population estimates, which show populations around the state are still rising. With the rise in wolves has also come a rise in indemnification for attacks on livestock, pets and hunting dogs. In 2016, the DNR reported just over $200,000 was paid out due to depredation and injury to those animals by wolves. So far, only halfway through 2017, that number has already climbed over the $196,000 mark.
While some say the wolf should not be removed from the Endangered Species List until it has regained the majority of its historical range, others point to numbers such as those above to show the entire historical range of the wolf is no longer suitable for a top predator. Human inhabitation, they say, has made a large part of that range unsuitable.
As the wolf population continues to grow, dispersing male wolves look for new territories. With ideal territories becoming increasingly harder to come by, those dispersing wolves often find themselves in areas inhabited by humans - and our animals. Livestock which has not been harassed by predators previously make perfect targets for a late evening meal for a wolf looking to move into a new territory. As with any animal, a wolf will take advantage of the easiest meal possible. Such is the way of nature.
According to the DNR website, 12 new packs were detected in the state in the 2017 survey, according to the wolf detections map on the DNR website. A recent press release, however, indicated the presence of 232 packs, up 10 from last year's 222. The press release stated this accounted for 925-956 wolves in the state versus last year's minimum population estimate of 866-897. Twelve dispersing males, those looking to form new packs of their own, were also detected last winter.
Population estimates reached by these surveys are considered by the DNR to be "minimum populations" as they are completed in the winter, before pups are born. At this time the wolf population is at its lowest point in the year. Surveys are done in the winter because wolves and wolf packs are more easily seen in aerial surveys against the snowy backdrop of the state at that time.
As these packs continue to move toward more farmland from the northwestern corner of the state, there will surely be more wolf-livestock interactions and the payments made for those attacks will continue to grow. As wolves move across northern Wisconsin, while they are not in prime farm country, surely interaction between wolves and humans, or wolves and pets or hunting dogs, will increase as well.
In 2017, by far the highest category of payments was made due to depredation of hunting dogs. Most of these dogs, as reported throughout the year, were bear hunting dogs.
The total payments is already almost reaching $100,000. To that is added over $5,000 for hounds which were attacked and taken to the veterinarian for care. Since wolf depredation and attack indemnification has been tracked in 1985, well over $700,000 has been paid in depredation of just hunting hounds. This is by far the largest category.
The second highest expense has been due to missing calves, which were determined to be wolf depredations. That total since 1985 is well over $665,000 with over $51,500 being paid out already in 2017. Depredation to calves has accounted for $378,332 since 1985 and over $11,000 this year alone. Cattle losses due to depredation have also been costly with over $8,600 being paid out just this year and over $162,000 since damage payments have been tracked in 1985.
Wolf conflicts have been costly, to be sure. These claims of depredation and harassment have been a large impetus behind those who wish management of the species to returned to control by the state. Still others would prefer to see non-lethal tactics employed in managing wolves as the only option, and would prefer them to remain listed. A recent survey by Wisconsin Wolf Facts, found, in large part, the difference of opinion on how to manage wolves could be separated into two groups: those who are dealing with wolves on and near there land, and those who did not live in the current wolf range. Those who did not live near or around wolves largely reported being more tolerant of wolves and more supportive of increasing populations on the landscape. Those on both sides of the debate are very passionate in defending their opinion and likely any ruling to return management to the states, as many believe will happen sooner rather than later, will also be hotly debated.
For more information on current minimum wolf population estimates, depredation totals and location of current wolf packs, visit the DNR website dnr.wi.gov and enter the search word "wolf."
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.