Wisconsin Wolf Population Remains Steady

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Wisconsin's gray wolf population over the winter of 2007-2008 remained very similar, or declined slightly, from the previous winter, according to the state's most recent wolf population survey. Department of Natural Resources biologists estimate there are between 537 and 564 wolves in Wisconsin, about the same number as a year ago.

The annual winter wolf count relies on aerial tracking of radio-collared wolves and snow track surveys by DNR and volunteer trackers. Also included are wolf sightings by members of the public. The agency has conducted these counts since the winter of 1979-1980 when there were 25 wolves in the state.

Adrian Wydeven, a DNR conservation biologist and wolf specialist, said the once-rapid growth in wolf numbers appears to be slowing or leveling off as the wolf population approaches the maximum size that the heavily forested parts of the state can comfortably support.

In 2007 wolves caused depredation to livestock on 30 farms, a new record. In 2006 wolves killed livestock on 25 farms.

Following a long process in which state officials had few options for taking action against problem wolves, state and federal officials were able to more aggressively respond this past year, because on March 12, 2007, wolves in Wisconsin and other portions of the western Great Lakes were removed from the list of federally endangered and threatened species. This meant state and tribal wildlife mangers could trap and euthanize wolves that prey on livestock.

Wildlife Services staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted trapping on most Wisconsin farms hit by wolf depredation in 2007 capturing and killing 37 wolves and one wolf dog hybrid.

The DNR issued shooting permits to 25 landowners with recent wolf problems in 2007, but no wolves were shot on these permits.

Three landowners did shoot wolves in the act of attacking pets or livestock on their property without permits after wolves were removed from federal protection. Landowners or renters of land are allowed to shoot wolves in the act of attacking pets or livestock. They are required to contact their local conservation warden within 24 hours.

Wydeven said farmers in areas of depredation were pleased to see government trappers on the job and were also pleased with the issuance of landowner shooting permits.

"Tolerance of wolves is improving in these areas now that more management tools are available," Wydeven said.

Wydeven said the wolf remains both a popular symbol of the wilderness in Wisconsin and an important component of the ecosystem. As large predators, wolves help reduce the impact of intense browsing and grazing, allowing more species of plant to take hold and to form a more diverse forest habitat.

The recent count of 537 or more wolves in Wisconsin is very similar to the count in 2007 when 540 to 577 wolves occurred in the state, Wydeven said. The slight decline is likely due to various factors, Wydeven said.

During summer 2007, pup production in packs across northern Wisconsin seemed down from previous years based on summer howl surveys.

Additionally, a new form of mange, Demodectic, was detected in a Wisconsin wolf this past fall. Only Sarcoptic mange had previously been detected in Wisconsin wolves. Mange is a skin disease, caused by a burrowing mite, can lead to death by exposure during the depths of winter. Several radio-collared wolves died from severe mange over winter, suggesting the disease may have become more widespread in the wolf population.

A total of 143 wolf packs were detected in Wisconsin consisting of at least 2 adult wolves each. Biologists found 21 packs distributed across central Wisconsin and 122 packs in northern Wisconsin. The largest packs in the state were the Beaver Dam Lake and Shanagolden packs in Ashland County, with 7-8 and 7-9 wolves respectively, and the Wintergreen Pack in Price County with 8 wolves. At least 33 packs had 5 or more wolves in them.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Adrian Wydeven - (715) 762-1363