While attending Colorado State University, my advisor was Dr. Dale Hein, who also chaired the Wildlife Biology program. Dr. Hein always told you where you stood, and exactly how it was-no sugar-coating the truth. Early on, he told us “if you think you are going to graduate, get a job, and run with the wolves, you have made a mistake. You may want to switch to veterinary science or zoology. Here, we manage populations across a landscape, not individual animals.”
Dr. Hein was right. I do not develop relationships with individual animals. If I contact a single animal, it is to euthanize it, put some kind of transmitter or band on it, or resolve a conflict that has put human health or safety at risk. Wolves are a great example; I have personally dealt with individual wolves in each of the listed instances. We have no other animal in Wisconsin that is as simultaneously loved and feared as the wolf.
So here I am, telling you about the first wolf hunt I have ever been involved in managing. Maybe this will help reduce some confusion. Right now, during the month of August, is the only opportunity to apply for a wolf tag. To date, over 7,000 people have applied for either a hunting license or a preference point (which is necessary to draw a license in future years.) There is a quota of 201 wolves, which is the number expected to be harvested. There will be a total of 2,010 licenses issued from the drawing in September. Those are two separate numbers-not everyone who buys a license will kill a wolf, so in the first year of the hunt, we are using a figure of 10 percent success across all licenses.
When you apply for a wolf tag, you do not need to know if you are going to hunt or trap, and you don’t need to know which zone. If you draw a tag, it will be valid statewide except for closed areas (e.g. tribal reservations.) The state is split into zones, and each zone has a number of wolves allowed to be harvested. Those who harvest a wolf have to register by phone or internet within 24 hours. When we approach the limit for a zone, we will close it to further wolf hunting. License holders will be able to hunt other zones until their harvest limit. This process continues until 201 wolves are harvested.
The Native American tribes have the legal right to claim up to half of the available licenses in the ceded territory. They get first dibs, as it were; they will declare their amount before our drawing in September. The wolf has high cultural and religious significance to the tribes. Like any hunter, they have the right to harvest their animal or not, purchase their license or not, and their harvest outside reservations will count toward the harvest limit.
One hundred dollars for a license seems high for many people. This money does not go back into the DNR for any purpose other than wolf management. The license fees are needed to pay for hunting dogs, pets and livestock killed by wolves. In 2011, $47,000 were paid out to owners of 28 dogs. That’s an average of $1,678 per dog. An additional $284,000 was paid out for losses of about 400 farm animals. So we paid $331,000 just for injured or killed animals in one year; our license sales this year will be no more than $201,000 (plus the income from the $10 application fee.)
There were other costs, like helping with human safety concerns, tracking populations using radio collar transmitters and aerial tracking, and so on, but you get the idea. We are not running around trying to figure out how to spend all the money that comes in. Much like my paycheck, it is spent before it gets into the bank.
Jeremy Holtz is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR in Rhinelander, and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.