Defenders of Wildlife Aids Wisconsin Wolf Census Flights

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Wisconsin's survey of wolves will be aided this year because of a $5,000 donation from Defenders of Wildlife to pay for the cost of aerial tracking of wolves, according to Adrian Wydeven, Park Falls, mammalian ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Endangered Resources.

The state’s wolf management program was faced with canceling flights because of a lack of funds. Such a reduction, Wydeven says, could have reduced the accuracy of the state wolf count. The donation, from Defenders Bailey Wildlife Foundation Proactive Carnivore Conservation Fund, will enable biologist to continue aerial tracking and counts of wolves in the state.

Wisconsin's Natural Resources Board officially acknowledged the donation at its January meeting in Madison, noting the funding "will be a major contribution to wolf conservation in Wisconsin."

In Wisconsin, DNR pilots and biologists count wolves in packs yearly after locating them using radio tracking devices. Currently DNR biologists are monitoring 52 radio-collared wolves in at least 33 packs. More than 80 packs are thought to occur in the state, and non-collared packs are surveyed by tracking wolves in the snow by vehicle or on foot. The combination of these tracking methods provides a high degree of accuracy in establishing a yearly wolf count, which is essential in wolf management, Wydeven says.

Accurate numbers are especially important this year as wolf numbers in the state near the 350 level which was established as the management goal by a Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan approved in 1999 by the Natural Resources Board.

Once wolves reach that level they can be removed from the Wisconsin endangered species list. At present, wolves are federally classed as endangered in Wisconsin and categorized as threatened under state law. The wolf population count was 323 last winter, which included 14 wolves that lived on Indian reservations. At a population level of 250 wolves outside of Indian reservations, wolves can be removed from the state Endangered and Threatened Species list. Therefore the Wisconsin DNR will begin the process to de-list wolves in the State this winter. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to reclassify Great Lakes wolves from Endangered to Threatened within the next few weeks, and expected to begin the process to completely de-list wolves from the federal list later this year.

Wydeven said flights conducted once a week from mid-September to mid-April enable biologists to "determine the extent of pack areas within about 90 percent accuracy."

He said reductions in flights would have compromised the precision of aerial locations to determine pack territories and pack sizes.

"It normally requires on the average of three or more visual observations to get a count of all the pack members with the collared wolf," he says. "Collared wolves are normally visually observed on only about one-third of the flights, thus it takes on the average of nine or more flights during the winter period to get good counts on the wolves in each pack.

"The Defenders of Wildlife funding will be a major help in achieving precise information on pack size, territory size and territory extent of Wisconsin wolves," he says.

"Defenders is pleased to contribute to this critical annual survey and we applaud the DNR for their unfailing dedication to the successful restoration of wolves in Wisconsin," said Lisa Osborn, Northeast Field Representative, Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders of Wildlife has been involved in supporting wolf conservation in Wisconsin for many years. They have previously supported reward funds for illegal killing of wolves in the state. In summer 2002, Defenders provided funding to the Menominee Indian tribe for a holding pen that was able to hold a pack of wolves re-located to the reservation after livestock depredation in Langlade County. Defenders has also supported wolf research in Wisconsin, and provided funding for state biologists to attend national workshops.