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Wisconsin wildlife officials endorse wolf delisting, but question approach

[large thumbnail url=”wisconsin-wildlife-officials-endorse-wolf-delisting-but-question-approach” filename=”news” year=”2011″ month=”07″ day=”06″] [thumbnail icon url=”wisconsin-wildlife-officials-endorse-wolf-delisting-but-question-approach” filename=”news” year=”2011″ month=”07″ day=”06″] MADISON – Wisconsin wildlife officials have communicated guarded support to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( US FWS ) over recent federal efforts to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes States.

“We support the delisting, but we have concerns as to whether the Fish and Wildlife Service is using the newest and best available science to support the delisting,” said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp. “We have a lot at stake here and we are counting on the service to put the best and most defensible delisting rule forward. We hope they will take our comments seriously as they publish their final rule.”

In its most recent delisting proposal, the USFWS includes genetic findings suggesting that two species of wolves, the gray wolf and eastern wolf, may inhabit the Great Lakes States of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan. But there is considerable scientific debate questioning whether the eastern wolf is a separate species or just a subspecies, and there is no field evidence of a separate population of eastern wolves living within the Western Great Lakes Region.

DNR feels that wolves in the western Great Lakes Region, as supported by most of the science, act and behave as a single species. DNR therefore insists wolves need to be delisted as a single species in the region as they were when originally listed under the endangered species act more than 30 years ago

“The USFWS knows that genetically, we have the same wolves here today as we did when they were first listed,” said Stepp. “We also know that our wolf population estimates are solid.”

Stepp also noted that Wisconsin’s wolf plan and goals are peer reviewed and are supported by the public.

“We have exceeded our delisting goal eight times over. It is time to return management to Wisconsin,” said Stepp.

A recent petition of Wisconsin residents supporting delisting of wolves collected more than 37,000 signatures. In hearings held in every Wisconsin county on April 11, 2011 a question of support on federal delisting was favored 4,402 to 526, passing in all 72 counties.

DNR has supported the delisting of gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes ( WGL ) States since it was first recommended for the region in 1998 and believes wolves are fully recovered in the region and are no longer in need of federal Endangered Species Act protections. The wolf was removed from Wisconsin’s state endangered list. Federal delisting would return management authority to the states and tribes.

“We are committed to long-term conservation of wolves in the state,” said Kurt Thiede, DNR Land Division administrator, “but we need authority to use all available means in addressing problem wolves, including lethal control, to maintain widespread popular support for wolves in Wisconsin and to provide livestock and dog owners relief from wolf depredations on their animals.”

Full text of the letter from Secretary Stepp to federal officials along with the department’s detailed response to the FWS delisting proposal is available on the gray wolf in Wisconsin page of the DNR Website.

The public is also invited to submit comments to US Fish and Wildlife Service. Comments on the new proposed rule to remove wolves from the Federal list can be submitted up to July 5.

Wolf populations continue to grow

Wisconsin wildlife officials estimate the state’s gray wolf population at the close of the 2010-2011 winter was between 782 to 824 animals, a roughly 13 percent increase over the 2009-2010 end-of-winter estimate. This is probably more wolves than have existed in the state since the 1800s, according to officials.

The annual winter wolf count relies on aerial tracking of radio-collared wolves, trail cameras, 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.

A total of 202 wolf packs were detected in Wisconsin during the winter count consisting of at least two adult wolves each. Biologists found 44 packs distributed across central Wisconsin and 158 packs in northern Wisconsin. The largest packs in the state were the Moose Road Pack in Douglas County and Fort McCoy Pack in Monroe County with 12 wolves. At least 47 packs had five or more wolves in them.

Although there have been some indications in recent years that population growth of the Wisconsin wolf population had started to slow down, surveys from winter 2011 indicate\ the population is still growing at a significant rate.

In 2010 the Wisconsin DNR initiated a Web notification of all wolf attacks on dogs for hunters and others concerned about wolf depredations. People can have their email address added to the notification list by going the gray wolf in Wisconsin page of the website.

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