“The range of possible (wolf) mortality rates (may be) as high as 35–55 percent, or 7–27 percent higher than reported by the state.” — wolf biologists’ letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
When nature organized this country, 2 million wolves graced the United States. Now state agencies man-handle nature as a game preserve for the 6 percent who kill. Less than 5,000 (0.025 percent of 2 million) wolves survive, under assault, about half of them in Minnesota. Red wolves are near extinction.
Wolves were the first endangered key predator species to be delisted legislatively, for a political agenda, not for scientific recovery. It was a gross violation of the Endangered Species Act. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a rancher, wanted wolves for his constituency to kill, and the Democrats wanted to keep his seat and the Senate — so the ESA was violated, as were the wolves and our heritage.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is mandated to report under the ESA for a five-year period, after delisting wolves, using the best available science.
Recently, Adrian Treves, Ph.D., director of the Nelson Institute’s Carnivore Coexistence Lab, and five other wolf scientists sent the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service a memo expressing concerns “that the best available science was not used in gray wolf, Canis lupus, managing and monitoring in the Western Great Lakes Region … during the period 28 Jan. 2012–31 Dec. 2013. … We found significant omissions of information, unorthodox methods, and statements that could potentially be misleading in the state report to the USFWS. … We recommend the secretary of the Interior consider the option of emergency relisting, as provided in Section 4(b)(7) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as amended, because completion of the independent review using the best available science will require time but the Wisconsin wolf harvest is set to resume 15 Oct. 2014.”
Citing the scientifically flawed DNR report, the memo recommends “suspension of the wolf harvest until the scientific public record is clear that the wolf population will stay above the state’s threatened level (250) with a 99 percent probability.”
The memo references two new threats to wolves not acknowledged by the DNR: hunting with hounds, and the unregulated training of free-running dogs on wolves, night and day, year-round, with no rules or safeguards for law enforcement to implement. The effects of constant assaults have never been studied.
To further muddle the situation, the DNR changed monitoring methods in 2013-14, thereby “making inter-annual comparisons impossible.”
“The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission was refused access to the meeting where data aggregation and interpretation occurred" in the spring of 2014, notes the memo. This did away with one independent assessment.
The DNR acknowledged that since delisting, reporting on natural mortalities had declined but omitted acknowledging any poaching mortalities. The memo states that the DNR knew of the Swedish study findings that “poaching was systematically and substantially under-estimated because poachers destroyed evidence. … Those authors found 67 percent of poaching events, 51 percent of all wolf mortality, were concealed and no carcass recovered.”
The memo notes: “According to WDNR’s public record … historic mortality levels were 32-48 percent without harvest. Add that to the 2012 harvest of 15 percent (117 of 774 ) = 47-63 percent after harvest. Then they tell us in the state report that there was a 0.74 percent population decline by April 2013."
With a higher wolf quota the next year, "the 2013 harvest represented a 35 percent mortality rate (275 out of a population estimated at 779 off-reservation). We added the above-mentioned historic mortality rate range to the harvest mortality rate for an expected, total mortality rate of 67-83 percent."
The DNR somehow came out with a median 12.7 percent annual decline in the wolf population. The DNR simply omitted major mortality factors known to exist beyond the hunts.
Of the seven DNR assumptions, Treves and his team assessed five as risky and zero as cautious, leading to underestimation of wolf mortality since delisting. Wolf killing quotas are determined using this hunter-serving math.
The Wolf Advisory Committee was appointed by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp to represent hunting groups, except for one mandated tribal representative. The minutes of their Sept.10 meeting admit, “The DNR has current ongoing research to develop population estimation methods; the data does not exist right now.” Why has it taken three years to develop these methods? Why continue a hunt with no existing data?
The scientists’ memo works with the suspect DNR estimate of wolves surviving. Treves emailed, “Remember we just used their own numbers to challenge their own estimates; that does not mean we accept their numbers.”
Why not strike a more urgent tone, or take legal action?
Joel Trick, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Green Bay, told me pre-wolf hunt that a “very conservative estimate of wolf poaching was 100 wolves annually killed.” Now that the DNR and Legislature have fueled hatred for wolves as “vermin,” hounding 24/7 year-round on wolves and all wildlife encourages exponentially more opportunities for wolf haters to “shoot, shovel and shut up.”
Considering a corrupt delisting, poaching documented as 51 percent of all wolf mortality unreported by the DNR, natural mortalities inadequately reported, inevitable killing in hounding “training” year-round, and the hunt itself, it seems the DNR is manipulating mortality statistics to serve wolf-hater magical thinking.
The flawed DNR model was neither published nor independently peer-reviewed. The scientists request “an independent, scientific, peer-review panel be convened to advise the USFWS on a course of immediate action.” There has been no reply.
The morally bankrupt and inept DNR is not up to the task of managing wolves and wildlife in this state. It is too compromised by hunter/trapper/hounder power, money, greed, and ignorance.
This requires action to suspend the Oct. 15 wolf kill. Contact your legislators.
Next week, “Why state agencies manage wolves with disregard for science."
Learn more about wolves in the YouTube documentary: “Living with Wolves.”
Please sign and network a petition to strengthen animal cruelty laws in Wisconsin.