Given the failure of Congress to pass any legislation that delists wolves, what do hunters and livestock owners have to look forward to in 2017?
In my opinion, nothing but more promises. We have been sold (and bought) a pig in a poke so often that we hardly flinch when Congress or a federal court judge prevents the control of an ever-expanding wolf population. (For the city folk who may not be familiar with the phrase “pig in a poke,” Webster defines it as “to buy, get, or agree to something without sight or knowledge of it in advance.”)
Wisconsin agreed to the original delisting of wolves with the understanding that the population would be capped at 100. The delisting allowed wolves to migrate from Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in spite of the fact that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources documented wolf packs in the state in the 1960s and late 1970s.
The next pig purchase took place when the wolf population goal was raised to 350. Soon to follow was a “minimum wolf count” that somehow has become the acceptable number for Wisconsin’s wolf population. It comes as no surprise that livestock owners and deer hunters feel the effects of a wolf population that is much greater than the winter count shows.
Help may be just around the corner (or not) in a recent announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Beginning in 2017, the USFWS will make $900,000 in matching grants available for wolf damage and preventative measures for livestock owners. The preventative measures, such as using fladry on fences and electrified fences, have not proven to be effective except on a short-term basis, which the USFWS has acknowledged. The grant money is being taken from the species protection budget, which will have a negative effect on species that are truly endangered.
There is no evidence that wolf populations are endangered, whether that is in the Upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Northwest or the Southwest states. Yet the USFWS wants to use half measures that have been shown to be ineffective.
Is it possible that help may actually come from the new federal administration after Jan. 20? We can hope that Wisconsin Sens. Baldwin and Johnson continue to push for delisting. There may also be a ray of hope in the selection of Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., as the Secretary of the Interior. Zinke was strongly supported for the Cabinet position by President-elect Trump because he (Zinke) is a very strong warrior against wolves. However, that will be believed when the results are known.
And, in Wisconsin, we do need results. As of late December, there had been 97 wolf depredations or harassments of livestock in the state in 2016, according to the USDA/Wildlife Services. Some of the 97 incidents involved wolves killing more than one animal, such as 17 sheep in Price County and eight sheep in Wood County. In anecdotal reports, hunters are seeing fewer and fewer deer each year where wolves are present. It seems that the pig effect keeps on giving.
While these comments may be construed as short-sighted or defensive, comfort is found in an observation made by de Tocqueville concerning the character of the American people. He stated, “The greatness of America lies in her ability to repair her faults.” This statement was referenced in the January 2017 issue of American Rifleman in an editorial that focused on the national political scene. One can hope that the observation applies equally to wildlife management.
Earl Stahl is a retired UW-Oshkosh professor and member of Wisconsin Wolf Facts and Wolf Education International, groups dedicated to informing the public about wolves. He and his wife live in the Village of Fox Crossing, formerly the town of Menasha.