6/22/2012 3:53:00 AM Wolf licenses to be sold beginning Aug. 1 Hunting, trapping season would run Oct. 15 through February
Conservation wardens (from the left) Jim Jung and Thomas VanHarden and wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele pause for a photograph Friday at the state Department of Natural Resources wolf meeting in Rhinelander.
Wisconsin hunters and trappers would have a month beginning Aug. 1 to apply for licenses to harvest wolves under a plan discussed Friday in Rhinelander.
The hunting and trapping season would run from Oct. 15 through the end of February, with a goal of harvesting 140 to 230 animals statewide.
Brad Koele, Department of Natural Resources urban wildlife and wildlife damage specialist, told a crowd of about 70 that the DNR will have the ability to shut down hunting and trapping if harvest numbers are reached in any given area. Permits would be issued according to a forecasted success rate of 20 percent.
"(Things) are moving quickly," Koele said.
The DNR will use comments from public hearings to make a final recommendation for a hunting and trapping season to the Natural Resources Board.
The NRB is expected to approve a final plan on July 17.
DNR officials are proposing seven wolf zones - primary range, secondary range and unsuitable range (see related graphic).
In the primary range, which includes much of northern Wisconsin, there would be a 10 to 20 percent reduction of the wolf population. The secondary range would see a 30 to 40 percent reduction.
Unsuitable range includes much of the southern two-thirds of the state, except the central forest region, and zone 1A in northwestern Wisconsin. The state wants to reduce the wolf population by 50 percent to 75 percent in this area, because there are more people there and more agricultural resources targeted by wolves.
Licenses would be $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. There would also be a $10 application fee.
The DNR has been seeking a hunting and trapping season for some time as a way to deal with nuisance animals. The state's wolf population has grown from 25 animals in 1980 to 815 today, said DNR mammalian ecologist Adrian Wydeven, of Park Falls. Some of the animals have caused livestock damage in agricultural areas, and some have attacked pets.
"Wolves were extirpated from Wisconsin in the 1950s," Wydeven said. "We considered them extinct by about 1960, and for about 15 years, they were out of the state."
Protected by federal law, wolves eventually made their way back to Wisconsin from Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
They were removed from the federal endangered species list earlier this year, thus opening the door to a hunting and trapping season.
Wydeven said the DNR estimates each wolf will eat about 20 deer per year. Given that, Wisconsin wolves likely killed about 16,000 deer last year. He added that a wolf also consumes up to 30 beaver per year.
The DNR's wolf-management plan calls for a public harvest anytime the population exceeds 350 animals.
"We're finding wolves are living in a broader range of habitats than we initially predicted, and we're finding that most heavily wooded areas across the state are being used by wolves," Wydeven said.
He added that the federal government requires the state to "maintain five years of intense monitoring" of the wolf population as it takes management control.
Koele said that all licenses will allow both hunting and trapping.
Half the licenses will be issued under a random drawing, and half will be issued using a preference system like those in place for bear and bobcat. Transfer of licenses is allowed.
The goal of the first season, Koele said, is to establish a sustainable wolf population that gradually reaches 350 animals. He acknowledged there will be "a learning curve."
"We're unsure of success rates and interest in wolf hunting; we're not sure how many applications are going to be purchased," he said.
State law requires that all harvested wolves be registered with the DNR. Baiting is allowed, but the DNR wants feedback on how to go about it.
"The question is, 'Do we create a separate set of rules for wolf baiting, or do we try to put that in line with the current deer-baiting regulations and bear-baiting regulations?'" Koele said.
Night hunting also is allowed, though the DNR is still seeking advice about how to proceed.
Public reaction to the plan was mixed. Rad Watkins, education and communications specialist with the Timber Wolf Alliance, expressed concerns about baiting.
"One of the big conflicts that you guys are wrestling with is the potential habituation of wolves," he said. "We're going to have a program where people take food that's not natural for the wolves and start placing it in remote areas to get wolves coming to human food.
"What people really don't want," Watkins said, "is their daughter - Little Red Riding Hood - to get eaten when she's carrying the doughnuts to grandma's house."
Koele responded that the DNR might have some flexibility "maybe on the timing of when bait's used and ... maybe on the restrictions that we could put in place on what was used for bait."
Rolland Yocum of Crandon questioned whether wolves have any ecological benefit.
"I have yet to hear, 'Why do we need wolves?'" he said.
Yocum mentioned the period of time when wolves were absent from the area and added, "Nobody seemed to miss them, you know?"
The comment drew laughter from some in the crowd.
Among the benefits of having wolves in the woods of Wisconsin, Wydeven said, is greater plant diversity, thanks to reduced deer populations, and reduced beaver and coyote numbers. Wolves, he said, are "shepherds of the deer herd."
Deward Ison of Forest County is happy that a wolf season is finally in the works.
"I applaud the wolf season," he said. "The reason is that if you have any animal that's not hunted for one, two, three, four, five generations, they lose all fear of man."
Lisa Johnson of Rhinelander expressed concern about trapping in close proximity to residential areas.
"I've had to get my pet dog out of a trap," she said. "It's not fun. And to think it could have been my child."
Gloriann Klein of Milwaukee worried about wolf pups.
"If you wipe out an entire pack - wolves are social animals - who is going to teach the pups?" she asked. "Unlike rabbits, wolves have to be taught what to eat and how to hunt.
"If the pups do not have anyone to teach them because the parents are shot, or killed, or harvested - whatever term you want to use - who is going to teach the pups?"
Wydeven said studies on wolf harvests show that pups and yearlings are likely to be killed, probably because they're not as elusive as adults. He added that, early in the season, pups without adults might have a hard time surviving. But later, that can change.
"By midwinter, they may have learned to hunt and they may be able to do OK," Wydeven said.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.