Wisconsin's wolf hunts should offer plenty of opportunities for groundbreaking research into wolves, wolf management and wolf hunting. / Wisconsin DNR
As Wisconsin’s second wolf season got underway Tuesday, we heard claims that the Department of Natural Resources was ignoring science and risking a destabilized wolf population by setting a kill quota of 251.
And those who attended The Wildlife Society’s annual national conference Oct. 7-8 in Milwaukee heard University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Adrian Treves claim wolf poaching is rising. During the conference, Treves also said the DNR’s 2013 wolf quota is “not sustainable nor responsible.”
Such claims pack punch because we like to think university researchers are detached, objective folks who disdain emotion, shun advocacy and avoid predictions they can’t support with data.
In other words, we expect professors to stay above the fray of us caterwauling commoners. Maybe that’s asking too much of mere mortals who deal with wolves. Until the early 1990s, for example, DNR researchers named each wolf wearing a radio-transmitting collar. Instead of scientific IDs like “XT1F34” or “DNR9999,” we had Tammys, Randys and Mandys roaming the Northwoods. The agency stopped the silly practice when realizing it hurt their scientific credibility.
Professor Treves has been especially vocal in opposing Wisconsin’s wolf hunt the past two years. When testifying in July 2012 to the Natural Resources Board, Treves warned the 2012 quota — set at 116 after the Chippewa claimed and didn’t use 85 — risked an “unsustainable harvest.” He also said: “Wisconsin is likely to equal or exceed the (quota) and drive our wolf population below 350 the first year (2012).”
Treves’ prediction that hunters and trappers would exceed the quota in 2012 was indeed correct. Instead of killing 116, they killed 117. This year’s wolf census found the 2012 hunt had virtually no impact on the population.
Yes, this year’s 251-wolf quota cannot be sustained indefinitely, but the DNR never said it was an annual harvest goal. The quota will vary annually as agency biologists assess the population. To suggest otherwise is misleading.
Even so, Treves is making similar predictions about this year’s 251-wolf goal. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week: “It could drive the wolf population back to threatened status and close the hunting season after just a couple of years.”
The DNR, meanwhile, predicts this year’s quota will cause a reduction of 13 percent, which would leave roughly 700 wolves next year.
The state’s 350-wolf goal isn’t the historical relic some imply. The DNR’s Wolf Science Advisory Committee affirmed it in 2007 after reviewing the agency’s 1999 wolf management plan. In late winter 2007, the state’s wolf population was estimated at 560, or about 150 fewer than current estimates.
And don’t forget the 2006-07 DNR wolf committee was staffed by credentialed experts. Not until this year did the agency dilute the committee’s professional roster by adding representatives from hunting and other outside groups.
In his 2012 testimony to the DNR Board, Treves also said: “There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support the safety or efficacy of hunting wolves with hounds ... (nor is there) scientific evidence to support the safety or efficacy of hunting wolves with bait.”
Both statements are true, but how could we expect peer-reviewed scientific studies when regulated wolf hunts didn’t exist until the past few years in the United States, and only Wisconsin is pursuing a hound hunt? And if peer-reviewed research of wolf-baiting and wolf-hounding is our goal, we certainly won’t get any data if we don’t offer any tests.
Treves’ claim about a recent rise in wolf poaching is also puzzling. DNR records show the agency investigated 1,007 dead wolves from 1979 through 2012, and declared 205 (20 percent) to be illegal kills. But from 2003 through 2012, the illegal kill was 19 percent, and after hitting a 10-year high of 30 percent in 2011 it fell to 17 percent in 2012 — the hunt’s first year.
A DNR survey of 2012’s wolf hunters found most of them demonstrated respect toward wolves. When asked if they shot at the first wolf opportunity, 66.5 percent said no. Their No. 1 reason? They were waiting for a better shot.
Further, of those who killed a wolf, 60 percent took its hide to a taxidermist for mounting, and 33 percent tanned and kept it. Why would so many wolf hunters pass up iffy shots, and 93 percent preserve their kill for display if they hate the sight of wolves?
Granted, we’re only one year into state-regulated wolf hunts, so it’s too soon to draw lasting judgments. But isn’t that the point? We should be studying these hunts to learn more about wolves, wolf management and those who hunt or trap them.
So let’s not accuse others of ignoring science and research unless we’re practicing both ourselves.
Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for
Press-Gazette Media. Email him