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Wisconsin wolf population continues to grow
State population estimated at 425 to 455
PARK FALLS, Wis. – The estimated number of gray wolves in Wisconsin through the late winter of 2005 was 425 to 455, up about 14 percent from the estimate of 373 to 410 for the same time a year ago, according to state wildlife officials.

There were a total of 108 packs and 14 lone wolves documented in the state mainly distributed in northern and central forest portions of Wisconsin. The pack count was the same at 108 last year.

The state Department of Natural Resources recently completed the winter population estimate, which is based on a aerial surveys tracking 35 packs with radio-collared wolves, along with thousands of miles of snow track surveys by DNR trackers and volunteers, and collection of reports of wolf observations by the general public. The DNR has conducted the annual survey since the winter 1979-1980, and this was the tenth year of using trained volunteer trackers.

The goal for the state wolf population set in the 1999 Wolf Management Plan was 350 wolves in the state outside Indian reservations. The recent count included 414 to 442 wolves outside of Indian reservations (11 to 13 wolves occurred on reservation), thus the population is 64 to 92 wolves above the state goal.

This estimate does not include any wolf pups that will be born this spring. Wolves are currently at den sites and wolf pups are usually born in April. Packs usually average five to six pups per breeding female in the spring, but often fewer than 30 percent of the pups survive to the end of their first winter.

“Because wolves are still listed as endangered by the federal government, the only controls on the wolf population available to us are lethal control on wolves that are verified depredators on domestic animals by DNR or U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services,” says Adrian Wydeven, a DNR mammalian ecologist.

Wolves were listed as a state endangered species in 1975, when wolves from Minnesota began to move back into Wisconsin, after having been absent from the state for 15 years. The wolf population grew gradually, and in 1980 there were about 25 wolves in the state, but declined to only 15 in 1985 due to disease.

“Since 1985, the wolf population has seen a steady increase, averaging 20 percent annual growth through 1990s and into early 2000. In the last few years the rate of growth has declined, and the lack of increase in packs indicates that the spread of the wolf population may be starting to slow down,” Wydeven says.

Wolves were reclassified as a state threatened species in Wisconsin in 1999, and on August 1, 2004, were removed from the state list of threatened and endangered wildlife and listed as Protected Wild Animals.

The federal government also downlisted wolves to a threatened status in 2003, which gave the state of Wisconsin greater authority in managing wolves. In summer 2004, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, indicated the start of a process to delist wolves in Wisconsin and other portions of eastern US, with intent to complete the process by summer 2005. Delisting would have returned all management authority on wolves to the State of Wisconsin.

A federal judge’s decision in Oregon on Jan. 31, 2005 reversed the earlier classification to threatened, and re-listed wolves as endangered by the federal government in Wisconsin and other states. The judicial decision also put the whole federal delisting effort on hold.

With the growth of Wisconsin’s wolf population, depredation on livestock in the state has also increased.

In 2002 wolves depredated on livestock on eight farms, in 2003 on 14 farms, and in 2004 on 22 farms. The threatened classification in 2003 and 2004, allowed DNR and USDA-Wildlife Service to euthanize wolves that had killed domestic animals. Lethal control was used on 17 wolves in 2003 and 24 in 2004.

“The fact that there was a 14 percent increase in the population is a clear indication that limited lethal control of depredating wolves hasn't had an adverse impact on recovery of Wisconsin's wolf population,” says Ron Refsnider, Midwest wolf recovery coordinator for USFWS. “It also shows tat the recent issuance of a permit to the DNR to conduct similar control actions is appropriate under the Endangered Species Act.”

Because wolves are now again listed as endangered, the DNR recently obtained a special permit for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct some limited lethal control on wolves that are verified as depredators on livestock.

Officials from the Wisconsin DNR, as well as Michigan and Minnesota DNR are appealing to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resume the delisting effort for the three Great Lakes states, and return full management to the states within the near future.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Adrian Wydeven - 715-762-4684 ext. 107

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