"I woke up one morning thinking about wolves and realized that wolf packs function as families. Everyone has a role, and if you act within the parameters of your role, the whole pack succeeds, and when that falls apart, so does the pack." - Jodi Picoult
If we are to learn more about how wolf packs function and how their behavior can change (or our understanding of their behavior) they must continue to be studied. In recent years, politics have weighed heavily into the Wisconsin wolf management arena, tossing science aside to some degree after the species' delisting. Often facing obstacles and frustrations from special interest groups, fear and prejudices and politicians, wildlife biologists and researchers continue their work regardless.
Mid-June presents a small window of opportunity during the year for wolf researchers wanting to capture and radio collar animals. Generally the denning season is over and there are a few weeks until bear hound training starts in July. Biologists and trappers are careful to avoid conflict by not having traps set while hunters run bear with hounds during training. Mid summer also brings temperatures too hot, which could strain captured animals-the welfare of which is always of great concern.
I was able to join personnel from the USDA, Wisconsin DNR and the Ho Chunk Div. of Wildlife during several trapping sessions. Although winter captures are also used, early summer can be an opportune timeframe to collar and learn more about the species. Traps lines are checked each morning prior to mid day warming. A great deal of time is spent scouting potential tracts of forest looking for wolf activity and trapping sites. There needs to be a combination of trails, minimal human activity and of course, a population of animals nearby. Some packs are targeted because they are in a long term research project, while others because collared animals went “off air” from illegal shootings or taken during the Wisconsin wolf hunt. Frustratingly, it appears more collared animals are lost to poaching than legally harvested.
Not a trapper myself, and having no experience, it was fascinating watching the art of setting a trap perfectly. Wolves are some of the most intelligent animals we have here in Wisconsin and not easily fooled by a haphazard set up. Great care is made to minimize human scent and disturbance of a site. It seemed every grain of dirt was carefully placed in and around the set to camouflage it's location and avoid capturing non-target animals like coyotes, bear or smaller animals. A casual passerby would never have a clue of it's vicinity. The diligence of these people in scouting, creating dozens of sets and checking them each day is extraordinary-they have a deep passion for their job.
In my time spent traveling from site to site with the trappers, the wolves proved un-cooperative-each trap mostly undisturbed. On approaching one set however, a rustle in the brush ahead did get the heart racing. Seeing cotton batting strewn about at the trap confirmed a possible capture. That's about as exciting as it gets (for me anyway), but on closer inspection, the trap was not sprung and tell tale small ‘hand prints’ were evidence a raccoon disrupted the set.
A new trap skillfully replaced the disturbed one and we moved on. The remainder of the trapline was also unproductive, but there were a few tracks in the vicinity, spurring optimism for another day. Researchers shared with me they have noticed a change in behavior to some degree, with animals staying more secluded and off trail-perhaps a result of increased pressure from shooting and harvests. Aerial surveys seem to confirm this shift, making trapping a bit more challenging.
Although my venture as an observer came up empty, it was well worthwhile for I continue to learn a great deal about this species and others from time spent cruising remote locations conversing with these dedicated people. The goal was to capture a wolf, assess its health and collar it and continue monitoring their behavior and habits-a worthwhile endeavor if we are to keep science and sound research in the loop of wolf management.
Read more posts from Steve Meurett.
Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.