Letter to the Editor: Wolf tracking summary analysis
July 26, 2019
To the Editor:
In early summer, the WI DNR released a minimum overwinter count of wolves in Wisconsin. The wolf count was determined to be 914 – 978, and can be found by typing “wolf” into the subject line on the DNR home page and clicking on “2018-2019 wolf count brief” on the wolf page.
The wolf tracking season runs from November to the end of March each year. Trained volunteers and DNR staff conduct the surveys. A minimum of three surveys and 60 miles of tracking is requested for each tracking block.
This past winter, 166 active tracking blocks were designated. About 1/3 of the state is not tracked for wolves at all. Wolf tracking collars and two public reports outside of tracking blocks also contributed to the count. Tracking block details can be seen at “2018-2019 wolf count pack details” on the wolf page. The tracking block map is at “Survey Blocks” under the volunteer tracker portion of the wolf page.
During last season’s tracking, 14,746 miles were tracked. This compares with 16,133 miles tracked in the previous winter.
As in previous years, this past winter, many blocks were not tracked up to the minimum standards set by the DNR. Out of 166 active tracking blocks, nine were not tracked at all (two of these had a collared wolf that was monitored), 83 blocks had only two surveys or less submitted, and 58 were tracked at under 60 miles.
One example of a block that should have been tracked more is tracking block 78, running from Rhinelander up to Minocqua, down to Tomahawk and back to Rhinelander (highways 47, 51, 8 — about 200 sq. miles). Block 78 had “0” surveys turned in. Two wolves were counted as part of my tracking efforts in neighboring block 75, and three more counted by air. Would more thorough tracking yield more wolves?
Experts agree that when a wolf population is rather rare, a wolf count is an appropriate method to determine minimum numbers. But when a wolf population becomes widespread and numerous, a head count is no longer a valid measure of numbers.
Wisconsin is the only state that does not use a statistical estimate to measure wolf numbers. Every other state uses estimates, and most add 10-15% for lone wolves, to establish a wolf population estimate. This type of estimating has been discussed in Wisconsin for several years, but no action has occurred to measure wolves in this manner.
Last winter, my sixth as a volunteer tracker, I thoroughly enjoy getting out into my three tracking units searching for animal tracks. I think there is some value in maintaining the current system, but a more economical and realistic set of methods would use models similar to those now in use by Montana, Idaho, Michigan, and Minnesota, as well as several Canadian provinces.
The minimum count is used for wolf management policy decisions, now and in the future. Credibility and accuracy, as well as reduced costs, would result in better management decisions.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer tracker, continue to check the DNR wolf volunteer trackers portion of the web site for future training sessions.