Way of the Wolf, Part II
Claudia Curran, The (Ashland, WI) Daily Express, 30 July 2003
Wisconsin's wolf population is growing, delisting efforts are in the works, and current federal funding of wolf-related state and federal agencies may continue in the upcoming fiscal year.
According to a recent survey, these natural resources agencies face challenges even after investigations and public compensations are complete.
Currently, $1 million in federal funding for wolf management is funneled through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the wildlife services agency, formerly wildlife damage control, where the money is used to investigate and alleviate wildlife damage problems in Wisconsin, said Randle Jurewicz, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources staff biologist, who has worked with the state's wolf program since 1978.
"This most recent money was for investigating wolf depredation and for helping to track and remove wolves causing depredations," Jurewicz said.
In the past, congressional delegates were lobbied to obtain federal money to help with the wolf program, and especially with damage investigations, Jurewicz said.
Before the federal funding was approved, Wisconsin paid the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate whether wildlife damage claims in the state were due to gray wolves. Now, federal funds are used for the investigations.
A June bill-writing session of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee included an insertion of $1 million in the new federal farm budget bill for funding wolf management funding in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The full House of Representatives approved the bill earlier this year.
Prior to proposed funding for next year and the current year's already approved funding, federal assistance to complement state funds for wolf management in Wisconsin was only $5,000.
"It sure beats what we had before," said Dave Nelson, state director of the USDA's wildlife services division. "We were running way short of the complaint load."
Of the proposed $1 million in wolf management funds for next year, $400,000 would be used in Wisconsin, if given final approval, according to Jurewicz.
"It was like manna from heaven," Jurewicz said, referring to the first time funds were awarded for managing wolves.
While the federal budget is technically scheduled for completion by Sept. 30, it won't likely be until late this calendar year whether the wolf management funding is final, said Tom Powell-Bullock, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wausau).
But current and future wolf management funding still has major implications for the state.
Money used in the past by the state for wolf investigations can be used for other endangered species programs, said Adrian Wydeven, DNR mammalian ecologist and wolf specialist, who anticipates increasing wolf program costs as species numbers grow, also raising the potential for more depredation.
"The more money we have to spend on control actions, the less money we would have to monitor them [the wolves]," Wyedeven said.
Control, compensation and perception
The April 2003 federal listing change of wolves from being endangered to threatened gave state biologists more options for dealing with problem wolves, including allowing government agents to destroy wolves that kill domestic animals.
Before the federal government reclassified wolves from endangered to threatened status, most captured wolves were relocated to other areas of the state.
"With the change in federal status, we will no longer be relocating problem wolves under most circumstances for several reasons," Wydeven said. "Most suitable wolf range is currently occupied, and few areas exist for releasing problem wolves."
Wydeven said if problem wolves are released into areas occupied by other wolves, the released wolves run the risk of being killed by the local pack, and, as most suitable areas of habitat are occupied, problem wolves are more likely to move into other areas where they will cause additional depredation.
"We will continue to explore non-lethal methods for controlling problem wolves," Wydeven said. "Scare devices, cleaning up of farm animals carcasses, changing calving areas, using guard animals, and other non-lethal methods are all considered where feasible."
Wydeven said trapping and euthanizing wolves only occurs after at least two incidents of verified wolf depredation, or on farms that have had chronic wolf depredation in previous years.
Recently wolves killed two hounds being trained to hunt bear in an area northeast of Ladysmith, where a local pack also killed a dog last February, Wydeven said.
The DNR pays for partial reimbursement of losses to dogs caused by wolves, but control trapping by wildlife services will only occur if wolves cause depredation to domestic animals on private lands.
Since the federal change in wolf status, wolves have also killed five calves on three farms in northern Wisconsin, and four sheep on a fourth farm.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services staff set live traps for wolves on three of the farms and trapped three wolves on a farm in Burnett County and one on a farm in Barron County. DNR wardens euthanized all four wolves.
All the farms received payments in the past for verified depredation and for some missing calves.
People who lose animals to wolves or other predators and receive compensation are no more tolerant of wolves than people who aren't compensated for claimed losses, according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, slated for publication in the December issue of Conservation Biology.
"Survey results indicate people who had lost a domestic animal to any predator were less tolerant of wolves than their rural neighbors who had not," the study reads.
Those who lost a domestic animal to a predator showed more favor for lethal wolf control measures than those people who had not lost a domestic animal.
The highest level of wolf recovery support in the study came from Northwoods residents who didn't raise livestock or hunt bear, and most of these people, or about 71 percent, showed support for maintaining or expanding the wolf population, while only 55 percent of livestock producers and 27 percent of bear hunters showed support for wolf recovery efforts.
"Government agencies charged with restoring and protecting wolves and other large carnivores face a daunting challenge," as public agencies must consider wolf conservation and protection and public compensation, the study reads.
Data compiled by the UW-Madison researchers also "suggests that if the Department of Natural Resources can maintain the population at acceptable levels, most residents will support wolf conservation."
"The future survival of wolves in Wisconsin depends on effective political negotiation and publicly palatable methods of controlling wolf depredations and compensating individuals for wolf-related losses," the study concludes.
To Kill or Be Killed
Jim Robbins, Los Angeles Times, 27 July 2003
One night last January, wolves stole into a pasture at a ranch near Helena, Mont., and dropped a rust-and-white-colored bull. It's no small task to kill a 1,500-pound steer with teeth alone, and for that reason wolves usually take much smaller prey--calves or sheep. It was the only bull killed since the wolves began returning to Montana in 1979.
No one knows exactly how the drama played out, but biologists say two or three hunters from a wolf pack usually kill large prey while the rest look on. The wolves patiently parry with big animals until the animal tires. When they spot an opening, one or two will seize the hind legs with their massive jaws and a third will clamp on the throat. As the animal staggers, snorts and shakes its head, the wolves simply hang on with their crushing bite until the animal bleeds to death or goes into shock.
Payback was no less brutal. The next night the rancher, using a night-vision scope, shot a wolf feeding on his $1,500 bull, mistaking it for a coyote. When he realized he had killed what at the time was an endangered species, he notified Ed Bangs, who is in charge of the federal government's wolf recovery program in the Northern Rockies. The following night, just after dark, Bangs and an agent from the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services--which, among other things, maintains a SWAT team for predators--drove to the ranch. They climbed a ridge, a vantage from where they could look down through their own night-vision scope and see the bull carcass, to which they correctly assumed the wolves would return. Kraig Glazier, the Wildlife Services agent, trained the crosshairs on an animal and squeezed the trigger. The sharp crack of a rifle shot reverberated through the valley. One wolf fell; the rest scattered.
Within a week, all seven wolves in the Castle Rock pack were destroyed, their whereabouts betrayed by a radio collar that had been affixed to one of their own. About the same time, federal agents wiped out four more wolves, part of the Halfway Pack just a few miles to the north, for the same sin. "Once they start actively hunting livestock, there is no choice--we need to use lethal control," Bangs says. But he adds that shooting wolves is important for other reasons as well.
"A little blood satisfies a lot of anger."
The West is getting wild again, and the speedy recovery of wolves, a once-endangered species, has become one of the most controversial wildlife issues in the country. A half century after the gray wolf was dynamited in its den, hunted, trapped and poisoned out of the West with vengeance, it has reclaimed the northern Rockies in spades. Experts say it could, within the next decade, re-colonize parts of Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and perhaps even California. It's one of the fastest comebacks of an endangered species on record, a testimony to wolf reproduction. Bangs' and Glazier's "wolf removal" at the ranch was only temporary--just one day after the last of the offending predators were finally hunted out, four new wolves showed up to start the game all over again.
Canis lupus arguably is the most charismatic of what biologists refer to as "charismatic megafauna"--wildlife with sex appeal and the fierce public support that seldom materializes when the endangered animal is the Wyoming toad or the short-nosed sucker fish. Wolves touch something unfathomably deep in the reservoir of human emotion. That's partly because the wolf is a social animal that many people feel has human-like qualities, such as the way it mates and rears its young. The wolf's homecoming offers tourists and naturalists the breath-stealing sight of a pack of the long-legged hunters loping across a grassy meadow, or sunning themselves, drunk on meat, on a Yellowstone Park hillside.
"When people start talking about wolves, within seconds they are talking about something else--their children's heritage, the balance of nature, someone else telling you what to do," says Bangs, who has spent the past 15 years traveling around the West, meeting with people passionate about wolves. "A lot of people on both sides get tears in their eyes and start sobbing. Managing the wolf is managing a symbol."
But while a wolf's ululating delights some, it chills others to the bone. The brutality of a wolf kill can test the mettle of even some of the most ardent wolf supporters. For example, a saddle horse in the Ninemile, a valley near Missoula, Mont., was apparently set upon by wolves. It galloped away, so frantic and blinded by fear that it impaled itself on the end of a 4-inch-diameter irrigation pipe. It managed to get loose and run a short way before it collapsed and was eaten. Such killings have meant the return of a raw frontier-style brutality to the Rocky Mountain West--not just on the part of the wolves, but also by the people charged with managing them.
The killing by and of wolves has ratcheted up in recent years as the number of wild wolves has grown from several dozen in the 1990s to nearly 700 today, increasing about 30% each year. The wolf recovery program is at a turning point: Federal biologists now consider the wolf a viable species. After 29 years on the endangered species list, it was down-listed in April to "threatened," a final level of protection that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps to remove in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming by 2004. Management would be turned over to the states and wolves could be hunted as trophy animals or shot by ranchers and homeowners if they attack.
The wolf's aggression is not its fault--the animal does what it's hard-wired to do. But the species has returned to a Western landscape far different than the one from which it was nearly exterminated. While the northern Rocky Mountain region has millions of acres of federally protected wilderness and parks, much of it is snow and ice for many months. Wolves, like people, want to live in more hospitable valley bottoms. The unchecked spread of rural subdivisions, where people raise everything from llamas to horses to potbellied pigs, and where ranchers graze cattle and sheep, are too tempting a target for some wild wolves.
So the species has been allowed to come back on conditional terms. Wolves can run, for example, but they can't hide. There are 43 packs in the three states, with an average of 10 wolves in each pack, as well as numerous loners and pairs. Lone wolves who take livestock are hunted down and killed almost immediately, and trespassing packs are trapped, drugged and harassed. If they continue to range too close to people and their livestock, the wolves are dispatched with extreme prejudice. More than 150 wolves have been killed by federal agents since 1987, something known as "lethal control."
The government's goal is to have at least one member of every pack wearing a radio collar so that the pack's whereabouts can be monitored and recorded. Federal agents can then, if necessary, track and shoot packs, wolf by wolf. The one wearing the collar becomes known, in the words of its hunters, as the "Judas wolf," even if, in this case, the creature isn't aware of its betrayal. "We're not proud of it," Bangs says. "It's a necessary evil."
With such intensive management, some say the Wild West is less than truly wild. But that may be what it takes to maintain the precarious balance between man and nature, for there are many who did not miss the wolf one bit and consider the renewed possibility of the species' extinction a reasonable idea.
In a cold, cavernous metal barn at the Park County fairgrounds in Livingston, Mont., under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights, a panel of ranchers and wildlife experts sits before an audience that consists of mostly men wearing cowboy hats. These two dozen or so ranchers are from the nearby Shields River Valley. Wolves have not yet colonized their neighborhood so these cattlemen have come to the Paradise Valley, north of Yellowstone National Park--a hotbed of wolf activity with four packs--to drink bad coffee and hear what ranching is like with a new predator roaming the hills.
Bangs is first to speak. A smart, affable guy, he managed wolves for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska and learned long ago that his biggest challenge isn't the wolves. It's the people. He offers reason and fact to those on all sides of the issue who are irrational or fearful or deeply concerned, or sometimes hysterical, or accuse him of being a butcher, even the few who have wandered out of the backwoods wearing guns, stinking of bourbon and screaming about black helicopters and government conspiracies. Bangs' rational demeanor calms most of them down, but there still are hotheads. Threats have come his way--including death threats, especially in some isolated places. "We had a saying in Alaska," he says. "People live at the end of the road for a reason."
Tonight's meeting is tense but relatively tranquil. After Bangs speaks, the meeting becomes the equivalent of "Tales From the Crypt" for the agricultural set. Three ranchers whose livestock have suffered wolf attacks quietly relate stories about howling at night, or coming home to find frightened, bawling, huddled cows at the center of a circle of wolf tracks in the snow, of a desperate feeling when they see buzzards circling over their pasture, and of cows who have trampled calves as they fled approaching wolves. Randy Petrich, a lean, young rancher, has shot four wolves under several shoot-on-sight permits issued because of numerous depredations on his ranch.
It's a return to times past. In the late 1800s, ranchers--some of them the ancestors of those on the land now--hired professional exterminators to kill wolves for a bounty of $2.50 apiece. In a good season those "wolfers" earned $3,000. Between 1883 and 1918, 80,000 wolves were dispatched in Montana alone. By the 1930s all but the occasional lone wolf was gone.
But the species found its way back to the West in two ways. In 1979 the first female wandered from Canada down the untamed northern Rockies into Montana near Glacier National Park. Then, in 1995, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service reintroduced gray wolves from Canada into Yellowstone and Idaho. When the process began, biologists predicted 450 wolves would be in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming by the end of 2002. Right now there are 660, not counting this year's pups.
That may not sound like many wolves spread over that large a region, but they kill often, because each one needs an average of nine pounds of meat a day. They also travel far; each pack has a home range of 250 to 500 square miles. Wolves that kill livestock, however, are a minority. Most stay with a wild diet. But from 1987, when the first attacks occurred, until the end of 2002, wolves have dropped at least 200 head of cattle, 600 sheep, nine llamas, 50 pet dogs and the one terrified horse.
The challenge for biologists now is not to make the wolf population more robust, but to make the species palatable to those who suddenly find themselves in competition with the deadly efficient predator.
A wall of mountains called the Absarokas shoots heavenward and shadows Jim Melin's cattle and sheep ranch in the heart of south-central Montana's Paradise Valley. These mountains are the source of three problems for the Melins: grizzly bears, mountain lions and now wolves. When Melin comes out to conduct a tour of his ranch, his wife and several of their 11 beautiful, smiling, towheaded children swarm out of the trailer as well. The 53-year-old Melin introduces them warmly. "The last three or four I ain't even had a midwife," he says with pride. "Jus' done it myself."
His eldest daughter, 15-year-old Laura Dale, and a sister, 13-year-old Sarah, come roaring up on a four-wheel ATV with a .22 rifle and announce that they've been out "plinking" ground squirrels. "I shot 20," says a beaming Laura, her long blond hair spilling out from beneath a baseball cap.
Melin and his clan have grown up working hard on this beautiful but hardscrabble place. He drives a snowplow and does custom haying to supplement the income from the ranch. He is far more troubled by wolves than he ever was by the grizzly bears and cougars that made their way out of the mountains and occasionally carved up a cow. One night last year, a pack came down and made a mess. When predators start killing, they sometimes lose themselves in the frenzied bloodlust and keep attacking far beyond what they can eat--something biologists call "surplus killing." On the way to move cattle in the morning, the Melin family saw a flock of magpies feeding on 15 dead or dying sheep, their white wool stained with blood.
"A lot of them, the wolves just grabbed and took a chunk out of, and [those] had to be killed," says Melin's wife, Betsy. One of the dead was Percy, a bum, or motherless lamb, raised by the girls' grandmother. "It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck to hear 75 or 80 cows screaming at the top of their lungs," Melin says. "I never heard a cow scream until the wolves came back."
After the kids leave, Melin says he is worried that they will be attacked by wolves on their way to the bus stop or while sleeping outside at night. "It's like the Wild West around here," he says. "When the girls go to baby-sit, they are handed a rifle and told, 'The wolves were up on the porch last night. Be careful.' " He says he can't send his dogs out with the kids--as he does to protect against bears and mountain lions--because dogs attract wolves. Unlike bears and mountain lions, however, wolves are not known for attacking humans. There is no conclusive evidence of a wolf ever killing a person in North America, but there have been attacks.
Melin is heartsick over the return of the wolf and can't understand why anyone with the sense God gave gophers would bring back so vicious a predator. Yet he seems calm as he complains. Faith in God has gotten Melin through some tough times, and it will, he is fairly certain, get him through the test of the wolves. "I got the Lord," he says, pushing the front brim of his cowboy hat up to reveal narrowed blue eyes. "Otherwise I'd like to kill someone."
Ranchers aren't the only ones hopping mad over wolves in the Paradise Valley. Some hunters and hunting guides are furious. Elk, massive and elegant, are a prized big game species outside the northern border of Yellowstone, home to the world's largest elk herd, and hunters from all over the world come to drop one. In recent years the size of the elk herd has fallen by more than half. In 1991 park officials estimated the herd at more than 20,000, perhaps as much as 24,000. This year the count was between 9,000 and 10,000. How much of that decline can be blamed on wolves?
Robert T. Fanning Jr., Bill Hoppe and Don Laubach, all hunters from the Paradise Valley and founders of Friends of the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd, gather for coffee one afternoon to explain that they think this resource is being wiped out as a result of the reintroduction of wolves. "If this isn't eco-terrorism, I don't know what is," Fanning says. While elk numbers are affected by a variety of factors, from drought to grizzly bears, he believes it is the voracious and growing wolf population, with its surplus killing, that is the primary cause.
Theirs may be an extreme view, but Fanning and the others want the federal government to reduce the number of wolves. "No one foresaw that wolves would reproduce like gerbils," says Fanning, spitting the words out like coffee grounds. If officials don't remove wolves, he warns, "people will only take so much" before they rise up. "They will take strychnine and cyanide to the mountains. Ten men can put 1,000 getters [a deadly device that shoots poison into the mouth of a wolf when it eats bait on top of it] in one day and take care of our problem. But we would rather the government take care of it."
The relationship between elk and wolves in the Yellowstone region is complex and, to date, not fully understood, says Doug Smith, the park's wolf biologist, who bristles at unsubstantiated claims about the reason for the decline of elk. First, he says, the count in the early 1990s was probably a record high. Those numbers were thinned by a severe drought, normal population swings and five other predators that prey on elk calves and/or adults. "Disentangling those things is not straightforward," says Smith. "Wolves are not guiltless. But they are not the sole factor."
The unfolding wolf story isn't just playing out on isolated ranches and in rustic Yellowstone. Residents of rural homes, which have blossomed throughout Montana in the past several decades, have discovered, literally, the wolf at their door, with wildlife savagery sometimes playing out in the front yard. The Ninemile Valley, located 300 miles from Yellowstone, is a small slice of heaven and home to another wolf hot zone. A helicopter pilot flying over it once watched as two wolves chased three deer in circles around a house.
Actress Andie MacDowell lived there for several years in the 1990s when the wolves were first colonizing the valley. She spoke out in support, Bangs says, but her enthusiasm waned after wolves slaughtered the two Great Pyrenees guard dogs she had gotten to protect her children. One was found half eaten under the swing set. "She wasn't against wolves after that," says Joe Fontaine, a wildlife biologist who works for Bangs. "She just didn't speak out in favor of them."
Fontaine tools his white government-issue pickup truck down the Ninemile one day and stops at a tiny maroon house. A license plate on one vehicle reads "lma mgc," and Jeri Ball believes the unusual and imperial-looking llamas in her front yard are, indeed, magical. She dresses them in costumes and takes them into schools and nursing homes for educational and therapeutic purposes.
One night earlier this year, some visitors showed up. "Wolves whacked three llamas there," says Fontaine, pointing through the truck's windshield to a pasture in front of the house. "So we got 'em an electric fence."
He gets out of the truck and begins joshing with Gene, Jeri's husband, who works at the local sawmill. When Gene walked out of his house one night, he came face to face with a wolf feeding on his llama. It stared at him. And then continued eating. And there was nothing Gene could do. An element of trying to ease the effects of the wolf's return has been to make the rancher or homeowner feel as if they are not powerless.
Except in extraordinary cases, when someone is issued a shoot-on-sight permit, citizens until recently could not shoot or otherwise harass a wolf--only federal agents could. But since wolves were down-listed from endangered to threatened, civilians have been allowed to shoot them if they are attacking, and can harass them if they come around. Gene has the full complement of equipment, including a radio transmitter in his living room that picks up wolf radio collars, so he knows when the animals are nearby. The electric fence is hot. And now Fontaine is here to show him and a neighbor how to use rubber bullets, which can go through half-inch plywood at 40 yards, to harass wolves.
The government is trying to make sure wolf management doesn't become a free-for-all. If the number of wolf packs in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming drops below 30, wildlife officials intend to reassert authority. They will not allow the wolf to be driven to the brink of extinction again. But removing the animal from the threatened-species list will not be easy. The Republican-dominated legislature in Wyoming wants to classify the wolf as a predator outside of Yellowstone, not a trophy animal, meaning it can be shot by anyone at any time rather than carefully managed. That outrages the large number of Americans who consider killing wolves a sacrilege.
Bangs steers a middle course. As human development sprawls into every desirable ecological niche in America, he says, wolves need to be carefully managed, but not treated as vermin again. If Westerners are ever to accept wolves as their neighbors, he says, those wolves that offend need to be controlled, with lethal means, by hunters and ranchers--by far the cheapest method. Such aggressive control measures may seem harsh, but they may help dampen the growing outcry against the wolves.
Bangs says it's wrongheaded to focus on the fate of individual animals when whole populations are in trouble. Many wildlife biologists constantly fight the sentimental--but biologically unworkable--portrayals in such Hollywood films as "Free Willy" and "Bambi." Killing individual wolves that attack livestock means the population as a whole will be allowed to stay. Nonetheless, Bangs knows the bloodshed has only just begun.
"If you think shooting wolves is bad, wait until we start shooting pups," he says with a grimace.
Environmentalists do not accept the need to kill wolves as a given. Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, has lobbied for years to return the wolf to the Western wilds. To try to make the wolf politically acceptable, the organization has raised more than $250,000 to reimburse ranchers for dead livestock. But that hasn't satisfied ranchers, who aren't fully reimbursed unless they can prove the calf or sheep was killed by wolves. If the carcass gets gobbled up, so does the evidence about the perpetrator. It can be difficult to tell a wolf kill from a mountain lion kill, and a necropsy, a physical examination of the carcass, is critical.
Wolf protection advocates have found some ranchers willing to test their belief that you don't have to kill wolves to keep them away from cattle and sheep. The lower sheep pasture at the Melin ranch recently looked like the opening of a used-car lot, with hundreds of red flags fluttering in the breeze. This is a European innovation called "fladry" that usually scares wolves away for a month or two, until the wolves realize they have nothing to fear. But it's better than nothing and can be used at critical times, such as lambing season.
The Defenders' Wolf Guardian Program in Boise, Idaho, also takes advantage of wolves' reluctance to approach humans. Volunteers, including students and housewives, pay their own way to camp out in remote mountain pastures when flocks and herds are most vulnerable. They track signals from wolf radio collars and when the animals approach, the volunteers whoop it up--yelling, banging pots and pans, firing off cracker shells, says Laura Jones, coordinator of the program.
There are, however, only so many guardians to go around, so the wolf killing continues. It's usually done by Wildlife Services under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The activity creates such a public-relations problem that the media, which rode with troops in the Iraq war, aren't allowed to see what Wildlife Services is doing to wolves. Teresa Howes, a public affairs officer with the Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins, Colo., refused a request to accompany an agent on a lethal control action. "It's just too emotional," she says.
Bangs says that after 15 years of helping wolves reclaim a place in the West, he has no doubt it was a good idea, despite the number of angry people and the losses of livestock and wolves. For one thing, the wolf has helped restore a natural balance.
"We make decisions and trade-offs all the time," he says. "With any program there are winners and losers. It's important to have some areas as wild as they can be. This is just a tiny slice of the country, but it will always remind us of what we've lost elsewhere."
Wolves Touch the Wildness Within
Reverence for predators changing lives, driving economies
Dan Hansen, Spokane (WA) Spokesman Review, 21 July 2003
Brian Connolly wept the first time he saw wolves.
It was the New Yorker's second trip west in search of the animals. The previous year, he'd seen none.
But on the third morning of his trip in 1997, Connolly heard a member of the Druid pack howl in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley. Then he heard a second wolf. Then more.
Connolly describes that morning's song, heard from a turnout along a paved road, as ''a choir in a cathedral."
An adult wolf and three pups appeared on a ridge several hundred yards away. The pups frolicked, jumping on their den mates, tugging on ears and tails.
''I had the deepest feeling that America had finally done something right after so many wrongs," Connolly said. ''Like many people, I cried."
Just as wolves incite deep hatred among some Americans, they provoke reverence among others. Observers say it goes well beyond the admiration paid to bears and other ''mega-fauna."
''Wolves are telepathic. They know what's going on inside a person," said Bill Taylor, owner of Wolf People, a store and education center with 16 captive wolves in Cocolalla, Idaho.
Taylor said he once saw his wolves ''kiss" away the tears of a grieving visitor. He does not consider it odd that single women sometimes drop by with potential mates, to see how the wolves react.
''If the wolves don't like them, (the women will) dump the guys," he said. ''One of them finally married a guy because the wolves ... liked what they saw."
Observers believe the attraction stems partly from the family structure of wolf packs, in which all adults chip in to help raise pups born to the alpha male and female.
''There are a lot of people who relate (to packs) in a human perspective. They see a mother and father and aunts and uncles and a whole extended family," said Judy York, of Sandpoint, who spent a week in March as a volunteer wolf observer in Yellowstone.
''Also, they're canids, dogs," said York, a Forest Service technical writer with a background in biology. ''In this country, we have a deep relationship with dogs as pets."
Like wolf opponents, the most ardent wolf fanatics often spread misinformation, said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Those who hate wolves often claim the animals are a threat to human lives. But Bangs has also heard wolf lovers say that they'd never hurt anyone.
In truth, Bangs said, people have been bitten on rare occasions, usually by wolves that were fed by humans. But there are no documented accounts of fatal wolf attacks in North America. In fact, experts say, the fear of wolves is a European phenomenon, largely absent in Native American cultures that lived among wolves.
While many who hate wolves claim that packs will wipe out big game herds in the West, wolf lovers sometimes deny any impact on wildlife. Biologists say wolves will never eliminate their prey base, but acknowledge that animals like elk will likely decline - perhaps dramatically in some places.
Biologists got hate mail from those who opposed the reintroduction of Western wolves in 1995 and 1996. And they get it from wolf lovers when they must kill a wolf that's preyed on livestock.
''Some people love wolves so much, they don't even want them radio-collared," said Yellowstone biologist Dan Stahler.
The love of wolves has brought changes to Yellowstone.
Park officials estimate that 4,000 visitors saw wolves in 1995, when packs roamed the park for the first time in more than 50 years. They believe that sometime in July 2002, some Yellowstone visitor became the 100,000th to see a wolf. The University of Montana has not yet completed an economic impact study, but businesses are clearly cashing in.
T-shirts and other products featuring wolves are thick in Yellowstone souvenir shops -- thicker, even, than those featuring bears. The Super 8 motel in Gardiner, Mont., puts out a sign welcoming wolf-watchers.
A new motel in West Yellowstone, Mont., is called the Gray Wolf Inn & Suites. It's on Gray Wolf Avenue, across the street from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
''Here, you're guaranteed to see wolves," even if you missed them in the park, said zookeeper Camille Austin.
Carl Swoboda started Safari Yellowstone as a one-man business in 1993. It grew modestly until wolf sightings became common. Now, he has a fleet of four vans and three SUVs to carry customers who come from as far away as Europe.
Among Swoboda's spring customers was Pam Rutherford, of California, who was thrilled by fleeting glances of wolves - the first she'd seen in the wild.
''I used to own a dog that was part wolf, and it was the best dog I've ever had," she said. ''I've loved wolves ever since."
Before wolf reintroduction, the Lamar Valley of northern Yellowstone was visited primarily by fishermen, photographers and biologists. It was Yellowstone's quiet corner.
There still are no gift shops in the valley. But turnouts are crowded each summer day with people hoping to see wolves. A sighting - often just a black or gray speck through a spotting scope - can draw a crowd of more than 100 people.
Most regulars can identify individual wolves at a glance, referring to them by the numbers used by researchers: ''21" is the alpha male in the Druid Pack; ''42" is the alpha female; ''302" is a dark male with a bent, feathered tail.
Anthropomorphic comments -- the humanizing of animals that is the bane of biologists -- sometimes slip into the conversations of the wolf fanatics.
''Twenty-one brings sticks home to the kids. He stops on the way home to get a toy," said Bruce Conrad, a retired electrician from Sumner, Wash. ''That's a real dad."
Since his first wolf sighting in 1997, Connolly has returned to the Lamar Valley every summer, for increasingly longer periods. He has moved from New York to Oregon, partly to be closer to the wolves. His plan as of Memorial Day was to spend eight solid weeks in Yellowstone this summer, and possibly return in winter.
During his 1998 visit, the retired creative writing teacher watched for wolves all day, every day, then spent each night writing a novel called ''Wolf Journal." It's about the fictitious return of wolves to Connolly's native Pennsylvania.
''A forest without a wolf is just a big park," says one of Connolly's characters.
John Sterling agrees. He and his wife, Heather, quit jobs in California last year and spent two winter months as volunteer wolf observers. They return to Yellowstone as often as possible, while trying to reestablish their careers in John Sterling's native Oregon.
Sterling said he has spent many days backpacking in California's Sierra-Nevada Mountains. ''I thought that's what wildness was," he said.
Now, he said, no place feels wild if it's absent its native predators.
''We've so unraveled the fabric of the West," Sterling said. ''When you see a remnant of it, it's very moving."
As Wolf Packs Grow, So Does Resentment
Biologists call recovery the most remarkable they've seen, but most ranchers describe it in another way
Dan Hansen, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 20 July 2003
Wolf No. 230 is dead.
Intentionally killed, most likely.
The wolf wore a radio collar, and researchers picked up a mortality signal in May. They followed it to a pool in Montana's Yaak Falls, about 25 miles east of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.
Wolves rarely drown, especially in scenic picnic spots.
Agents are waiting for low water before they recover the collar. They expect to find it cut, just like the collar found last year in the Boise River of southern Idaho. Just like others cut from illegally killed wolves throughout the West and tossed into other rivers and briers and canyons.
By now, No. 230's carcass is most likely just scattered bones, teeth and a few tufts of black fur, perhaps in a ditch or clearcut.
The who and when of the death may never be known, unless someone brags about committing the felony.
The why is simple.
A good many people in the West hate wolves. And after two generations of living without them, we're having to wrap our minds around the idea that they're back. That has a lot of people nervous and angry.
Eight years after biologists released 15 gray wolves into Idaho and another 14 into Yellowstone National Park -- a total of 37 more from Canada followed a year later -- wolves are expanding their range and increasing their numbers at an astonishing pace.
Federal officials estimate there are 263 Western gray wolves in Idaho, 217 in Wyoming and 183 in Montana. That doesn't include this year's pups, or wolves that researchers haven't yet confirmed.
And while there are no known packs in Washington, Oregon or north of Interstate 90 in Idaho, it's only a matter of time. Wolves already wander through those areas.
Biologists used to years of nursing along rare animals like grizzly bears and woodland caribou call it the most rapid and remarkable recovery of a species in U.S. history. They propose removing wolves from the Endangered Species List next year, leaving management of [C]anis lupis to the states.
The Northwest has seen conflicts over grizzly bears. They flare up every time a road is closed to protect habitat or the government proposes relocating bears into places where they're missing, something that's never happened.
But wolves have a broader range and spread far more rapidly than bears.
They're more often seen in Western areas where people live, raise livestock or hunt.
And wolves feed exclusively on animals -- usually big game animals, but sometimes livestock. That's why they were exterminated in the first place and why opposition continues to grow as they regain old territory.
By all appearances, wolves are more despised in the West than are grizzlies. Maybe they always have been.
''I've had ranchers tell me, 'We started out liking grizzly bears, but we've always hated wolves,'" said Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bumper stickers sold by the Central Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition urge folks to ''Save State's Rights. Kill a Wolf."
To some people, those aren't just blustery slogans. Federal agents know of at least six wolves illegally shot in Idaho since 2000 and nine in Montana, not including No. 230.
There undoubtedly are more; deaths are discovered only if a wolf is radio collared or someone stumbles across a carcass.
Mick Carlson, who raises sheep near Riggins, Idaho, contends the government has set up a war pitting rural Westerners against the wolves.
''I don't know anyone in this town that hunts or has livestock who would not kill a wolf if he saw it," said Carlson, who recently lost sheep to wolves.
Blame a wolf?
Throughout the West last year, wolves are known to have killed 52 cattle, 99 sheep, nine dogs and five llamas. Ranchers contend the actual numbers may be five to eight times greater than those confirmed by necropsies or eyewitnesses.
Federal authorities agree that many kills go undocumented.
''In wooded and/or mountainous country, livestock carcasses may not be found promptly, if ever," reads the 2002 annual wolf report, compiled by several agencies.
That description pretty well describes Dave Wilson's situation.
Wilson has no proof he's suffered losses to wolves in the Payette National Forest near Riggins, where he grazes 600 cows and their calves. But, Wilson said, he ended 2002 with 22 fewer calves than he would normally have expected.
Also near Riggins, wolves attacked a flock of 20 sheep owned by Jack and Lorene Lees in May. In one night, the Lees lost seven lambs and one registered Suffolk ewe.
Carlson's sheep were the latest targets of wolves in the Riggins area.
Agents for U.S. Wildlife Services say wolves killed at least three of his sheep -- and probably killed seven others -- the nights of June 30 and July 2.
He also lost a trained border collie to wolves in April.
He contends the losses on his sprawling ranch and leased federal land are far worse than the agents document. He figures he was down 96 lambs even before the latest attacks, although there's no proving that they didn't fall prey to cougars, bears, coyotes or illness.
Despite the strong feelings of ranchers, the current leaders in the anti-wolf movement are mostly elk hunters.
They include Ron Gillett, a hunting outfitter who leads the Central Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition; John Nelson of St. Maries, who is an avid hunter; and Ed Wright of Libby, Mont., who spoke against wolves at Spokane's Big Horn sportsman's show in March and is a former outfitter.
They warn that wolves will wipe out the West's premier big game animals - something biologists say could not happen.
''The number of wolves is solely dependant on the number of prey," said Bangs, the wolf recovery coordinator. ''Once prey goes down, (wolves) start fighting among themselves and the number of wolves goes down."
Preliminary studies in Yellowstone, where elk comprise about 90 percent of wolves' prey, indicate that packs kill about 15 elk a year for each member.
But it's way too early to determine the impact of wolves on Idaho's elk, state biologist Steve Nadeau said. He notes that bears and cougars also take a big toll on elk, particularly in brushy places like the Clearwater River drainage.
Hunter success remains high in Idaho, hitting 25 percent for those who pursued elk in 2001. Carter Neimeyer, who oversees Idaho wolf recovery for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, believes weather and hunter effort have far more impact on success than do predators.
''Guys cry to me that they didn't get an elk and I say, 'And you're going to blame a wolf?"' said Neimeyer, an Idaho native and longtime hunter.
Rural America's war on wolves dates to the earliest arrival of Europeans. ''Our greatest enemies are our wolves," a colonist wrote to relatives in England.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony offered rewards for dead wolves starting in 1630. Over the next 300 years, virtually every state and territory passed similar laws. Oregon Territory adopted a $3 wolf bounty in 1843. Washington Territory adopted one in 1871.
Montana spent $178,000 on wolf eradication in 1914 alone, according to the book ''War Against the Wolves" by Yellowstone ranger Rick McIntye.
With such costs mounting, ranchers and Western politicians demanded that the federal government take over the fight. Congress agreed in 1915, ordering the U.S. Biological Survey (now Wildlife Services) into the fray.
At the peak of the battle, the agency had about 500 paid hunters who killed nearly 70,000 wolves, along with other predators. There is no accurate count of wolves killed by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service or the states.
By 1973, when wolves outside Alaska were added to the endangered species list, the range of gray wolves south of Canada had shrunk from 43 states to just the northern tip of Minnesota and Michigan's Isle Royale.
'Dumped on us' by the feds
The same federal government that helped eradicate wolves for one generation is viewed by another as a co-conspirator with environmentalists.
Some opponents claim it's part of a plot to drive rural Westerners off the land or take away firearms. Eliminate game herds like elk, the thinking goes, and there will be less reason for Americans to own guns.
''You hear these things and think, 'Who would ever believe that?"' Bangs said. As a wolf researcher, ''you learn to sort out the wild-eyed hysterics from reality, be polite and nod your head."
The Central Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, which works throughout the state, is among the groups raising money for a threatened lawsuit. Defendants will be the Fish and Wildlife Service, the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife ''and anyone else who's responsible" for wolf reintroduction, St. Maries activist Nelson said.
''Our constitutional rights have just been trampled on," Nelson said.
Speakers at Idaho anti-wolf gatherings accuse federal agencies of intentionally underestimating the number of wolves and their impact on elk.
They insist that wolves were never really gone so shouldn't have been reintroduced.
Biologists believe all resident wolf packs were exterminated in the West by the 1950s. Recovery started in the 1980s, when Canadian wolves wandered into Glacier National Park and formed a pack.
But biologists don't deny that individual wolves visited Western states, probably without settling down. In fact, two Washington farmers were fined $500 apiece for shooting a wolf in 1975.
Gillett, a firebrand from Stanley, Idaho, is among those who contend the reintroduced wolves are a larger, separate subspecies from those native to the state. He calls them ''an exotic species that was dumped on us."
Biologists insist the wolves are the same subspecies.
As to allegations that government biologists intentionally deceive citizens, Neimeyer vehemently defends his agency and others, while questioning some of the information anti-wolf activists present as facts.
An anti-wolf letter published in The Spokesman-Review in May reported that Idaho already is home to 44 known wolf packs. The hunter who wrote the guest commentary extrapolated that those wolves probably kill more than 9,000 elk a year. But the 2002 report he cited as the source of that information puts the number of known packs at 19.
Gillett told the crowd at an anti-wolf rally in Orofino in March that 'we're confident there are between 700 and 1,000 wolves in Idaho." But he offered no proof for disputing the federal estimate of 263.
Wright told a Spokane audience at the Big Horn Show in March that federal biologists were so naive, they predicted wolves released in Yellowstone would not leave the park. But the widely circulated reintroduction plan of 1994 says wolves were expected to spread throughout the region, just as they've done.
Gillett and others claim wolves kill for fun, sometimes without bothering to eat the animals they bring to the ground.
Doug Smith, wolf project leader in Yellowstone, said wolves rarely kill more than they can immediately eat because killing is rarely easy. When it does happen, they return to their excess kills later, he said, although scavengers often have picked over the carcasses by then.
''If a wolf does not kill every animal it can kill at every opportunity, it's going to starve to death," Smith said.
Paying for wolf kills
The environmental group Defenders of Wildlife has compensated ranchers $270,000 since 1987 for some of the livestock killed by wolves. That privately funded program was started to encourage wolf recovery.
Jack Lees said Defenders has offered him a fair price for the 20 sheep he lost near Riggins. And while rancher Carlson has not yet applied for compensation for the sheep he's lost, Defenders has agreed to buy him a replacement for Spike, the border collie killed by wolves, said Laura Jones, Defenders' Boise coordinator for the program.
Defenders typically pays $90 to $115 for sheep and $500 to $1,000 for calves, when federal agents confirm that the animals were killed by wolves.
Confirming wolf kills is an inexact science.
Wolves bite three times harder than do German shepherds and leave bigger tracks with longer strides. Hemorrhages under the skin are proof that an animal was alive when bitten, and not just scavenged by wolves, said Rick Williamson, the Wildlife Service's Idaho-based wolf management specialist.
They're sloppier killers than cougars or bears, and their prey often tear up a kill scene in the process of dying.
Despite all that, agents often can't do more than declare that an animal was ''probably" killed by wolves, which nets the owner a half payment from Defenders.
Unconfirmed losses, like the 22 calves rancher Wilson says he's missing, draw nothing from the environmental group. In those cases, ranchers can turn to a new federally funded program run by the Idaho Office of Species Conservation and offered only in that state.
A state committee recently agreed to pay 12 Central Idaho ranchers a total of $90,500 for the loss of 208 calves and two cows in 2001 and 2002.
The ranchers, who raise cattle on private and leased public land within the territory of known wolf packs, did not have to prove wolf kills. Instead, they had to show how many calves their cows produced in the years before wolves, compared with now. The presumption was that wolves caused any shortfalls.
The program is funded again for next year, ''but it's going to be on a year-to-year basis after that," said Lemhi County Commissioner Robert Cope, a committee member.
Wolves that kill livestock generally are given a second chance. But government agents in 2002 killed 46 wolves in cases of chronic livestock depredation. That included one entire pack in northwestern Montana and another pack in central Idaho.
It was the most common cause of death last year among monitored wolves.
Hunting on the horizon
Rural county commissioners and some Western legislators have adopted a variety of anti-wolf laws and resolutions. They are mostly useless, as long as wolves are wards of the federal government.
A 1999 resolution in Wallowa County, Ore., calls on the federal government to ''immediately destroy or return all wolves" that wander into northeastern Oregon from Idaho.
Idaho lawmakers in 2001 passed a memorial calling for ''the immediate removal of all wolves from the state." There were bills opposing wolves this year in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, although few of them passed.
Now, the states must decide how they'll manage the critters while protecting them from extinction. Plans for Montana, Idaho and Wyoming must be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before wolves can be dropped from the Endangered Species List.
Idaho is ahead of its neighbors, having passed a federally-approved plan this year that calls for strictly regulated hunting when populations allow. Montana's proposal is similar.
Wyoming has a less-protective proposal.
Wolves in the northwest corner of Wyoming would be classified as ''trophy game animals" and hunted under strict regulations. Elsewhere in the Cowboy State, wolves could be shot any time, just like coyotes, skunks, jackrabbits and stray cats, said Larry Kruckenberg, who works on wolf issues for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
If hunting occurs in Idaho, the Nez Perce Tribe will likely demand a ''harvest sharing" agreement, said Marley Hochendoner, spokeswoman for the tribe that leads Idaho wolf recovery efforts for the U.S. Fish and WildlifeService.
The Nez Perce, whose past chiefs include the likes of Yellow Wolf and Red Wolf, historically hunted wolves only for ceremonial purposes, ''not like harvesting elk for food," said Aaron Miles, tribal natural resources director.
Defenders of Wildlife, the nation's leading wolf advocacy group, does not oppose most hunting, said Nina Fascione, vice president of species conservation.
But, ''it's premature to be talking about hunting a species that's just coming off the Endangered Species List," Fascione said.
Nadeau, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist, acknowledged the hunts will be controversial, just like everything else about wolves.
''There's nothing we can do about that," he said.
Hunter Seeks to Prove Wolves are in Maine
Misty Edgecomb, Bangor Daily News, 9 July 2003
The winter night begs for the plaintive echo of a wolf, howling across the wild, icy hilltops that mark the boundary between civilized Maine and civilized Quebec.
It's cold and clear in the Little Black River watershed, and the northern lights are flashing across the sky, an otherworldly green mimicking the "fierce green fire" that naturalist Aldo Leopold once famously saw in a dying wolf's eyes
But this just isn't the night.
Dana Smith packs up his microphones and tape recorder and wills his old truck to start in the subzero temperature.
Officially, there are no wolves in Maine, and there haven't been since the 1880s.
But Smith, who lives in Glenburn, is in a growing community that doesn't buy the official word. He says his life changed when, on a hunting trip six years ago, he saw a wolf in these woods west of the town of Allagash.
Since then, he has spent tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours searching the North Woods for any sign -- a track in the snow, a bit of fur, a faraway howl.
"If you see one, you'll never forget it ... They look right through you," Smith said. "Once you make eye contact, blink and they're gone."
Smith describes himself as "a deer hunter at heart." He hates the idea of reintroducing wolves to Maine, and has no patience with animal-rights activists. But he doesn't like being told he's wrong. If wolves are here, the state ought to admit it, he said.
"I hunt (for wolves) just as hard as I hunt anything. Probably harder," he said.
Lately, Smith has been joined in his hunt by wildlife activists who desperately want to find proof of wolves in northern Maine. The National Wildlife Federation has trained volunteers to look for tracks, and it hired a wolf biologist to independently verify Smith's reports of tracks, howls, carcasses and other signs of the elusive canids.
Time is of the essence, because in March, the National Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded gray wolves in the eastern United States from endangered to threatened status. If all goes as planned, the wolf is scheduled to be dropped from the listing entirely after about a year.
That leaves Maine's wolves -- if they exist -- with absolutely no protection come next year, said Lisa Osborn, spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife in the Northeast. Defenders has filed a lawsuit to fight the change.
"They're packing up their tools before the job is done," Osborn said. "A lot of this is politically motivated. It doesn't make scientific sense."
Maine does not recognize the wolf as a state endangered species because, as Ken Elowe of the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said, "How can you protect something that's not (officially) here?"
Everyone -- from state and federal biologists to wolf reintroduction advocates and hunters like Dana Smith -- agrees that a wolf probably makes its way into Maine every now and then. Two wolflike animals were killed here during the 1990s, and the Laurentides Provincial Wildlife Reserve, a preserve in eastern Quebec, is only 75 miles away.
A wolf can travel 50 or more miles in a day without breaking a sweat, and when young animals are seeking out new territories, they can disperse over tremendous distances. Three years ago, a radio-tagged wolf from Michigan made news when it turned up 500 miles away in Missouri.
Then last fall, wolves spotted just 30 miles from the Maine border near the Quebec towns of Sherbrooke and Lac-Megantic had activists and biologists abuzz with the prospect of a natural wolf recovery in Maine.
"There's nothing to keep them from crossing that invisible line," Smith said.
Biologists had long believed that wolves weren't able to cross the powerful St. Lawrence River nor the heavily populated Quebec City urban area that lie between the Laurentides Preserve and the Maine border.
"Wolves have a real ga[u]ntlet to run if they're going to come from north of the river," said Mark McCollough, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based in Old Town.
In addition to contending with the river and four-lane highways, wolves are affected by intensive trapping sanctioned by the Canadian government. If wolves cross the St. Lawrence, there's nothing to keep them from populating the Gaspe Peninsula in far northern New Brunswick, where a rare population of wild caribou is struggling to survive, McCollough explained.
Still, wildlife ecologists have published theories on which routes wolves might take. They estimate Maine could support 784 to 1,575 wolves. Thousands of acres of habitat are available. In fact, much of the habitat in Maine is wilder than the land in Michigan and Wisconsin where wolves have rebounded in recent years.
"Once they get a foothold in Maine, they'll just take off," Lisa Osborn said.
That's precisely what's happened over the past decade in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Wolf sightings began with a few tracks, some fleeting glimpses like Smith's. A decade later, wolves have become a tourist attraction, according to Jim Hamill, a retired state biologist.
So why isn't every moose hunter in northern Maine seeing packs of wolves?
"There are a lot of unanswered questions, and the only thing that's going to change it is a radio collar," Smith said. "And for that, you've go to catch one."
The roof of Smith's truck reads "wolf man" in big letters made of tape, just in case he gets stranded on these snow-covered logging roads and needs to be rescued by helicopter. As he works alone, an hour into the woods from Allagash village in early March, becoming snowbound isn't as farfetched as it sounds.
The flash battery on Smith's motion-triggered camera has frozen solid, and an angry moose crushed one of the $7,000 cameras with its hoof.
Last New Year's Eve, Smith spent the night camping in his truck, with the temperature well below zero, hoping to hear a howl. His propane stove froze, so he had to build a fire in the snow. In the spring, he has waded knee-deep into a cedar swamp to follow a hot trail.
"You name it, it's happened," he said.
Our March journey with Smith to the drainage of the Little Black River west of Allagash was uneventful by comparison. In two days, we traveled 168 miles by truck, and another 70 by snowmobile, searching for signs of life -- and life was everywhere. Long skinny snowshoe hare prints, deer tracks like quotation marks in the snow, graceful wing prints of ravens and a mishmash of little dog tracks -- coyote, Smith said.
Once we got a few miles into the woods, however, the coyote prints disappeared.
"The first five minutes out of the gate is where all the coyotes are. Why would that be, unless there's something bigger and badder in here?" he asked.
According to Jim Hamill, who was hired by the National Wildlife Federation to verify Smith's sightings during a February tracking expedition, that's exactly what should happen when wolves and coyotes interact.
"Wolves are one of the most effective tools for controlling coyote numbers," he said. "They kill them on contact."
Smith stared at his map, tracing lines with his finger, then rubbing his forehead, trying to think like a wolf.
"They always make some kind of a circle. There are several places they frequent. What they do in between is anybody's guess," he said. "They could be here right now, and they could be gone tomorrow morning."
Finally, Smith found tracks, deep depressions as though someone had punched a fist into the powdery snow. Something heavy, with big feet, walked though these drifts. It wasn't a lynx, which leaves perfect round cookie-cutter cat tracks atop the snow's crust. Neither did this big track look anything like the small, erratic coyote prints we saw clustered around a deer carcass near Allagash
The snow was too soft to make a good impression, so we didn't take plaster casts. Still, Smith measured the track, which was just smaller than the officially sanctioned 4.5-inch-long wolf track. He was not deterred by a couple of millimeters.
"That's a crock," Smith said. "It's not a perfect world."
Smith strode along, mirroring the tracks. At 6-foot-4, Smith has a stride that matched the animal's.
The tracks stretched far out ahead. Perfectly aligned, they were like a zipper running the length of this unplowed woods road. We followed them for a few yards, then saw the one track diverge into two. Smith talked about the pair of wolves he believes he has seen several times, a big black male and a smaller gray female.
"They're well put-together, not skinny or scrawny. They're pushing 100 pounds," he said. "They're in the neighborhood, but we're a little late, as usual."
We followed the tracks on snowmobile, Smith urgently pushing through the soft drifts, hoping that we can make good use of the photographer's telephoto lens. Then the tracks abruptly stopped.
"There's times when I think they must fly away -- they just disappear," he said.
Right now, the only concrete proof that Maine ever had wolves is in storage at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and the Museum of Science in Boston. There's not much here to work with, just a few skulls, a pelt and a desiccated snout -- evidence of New England's history of bounty killing.
At one time or another, Maine had bounties in place on every predator, but wolves were a favorite target, with local bounties to protect livestock starting in the late 1600s, and a 71-year state bounty program that wasn't discontinued until 1903. Certainly thousands of wolves were killed, and most biologists time the wolf's disappearance from Maine around the turn of the century for this very reason.
A few decades later, a strain of unusually large coyotes found an ecological niche as the North Woods' top dog. Some biologists suspect Maine's coyote has interbred with wolves, creating a genetic hybrid that makes it almost impossible to answer the question, "What is a wolf?"
Genetic testing indicates that the Harvard specimens seem to be red wolves, a smaller species that feeds on deer, interbreeds with coyotes and can be found in New York and Ontario. But northern Maine's habitat is better-suited to the more powerful gray wolf, which is found in northern Quebec and the Great Lakes region, kills coyotes on sight and hunts moose.
Maine straddles an ecological boundary, and it's entirely possible that the state once had both types of wolves, or that they bred with each other and with coyotes to form hybrid animals with muddied genetics.
The basic rule is that different species don't interbreed. But that doesn't mean that they can't. Biologically, a wolf could breed with a poodle, but behavioral differences keep it from happening, Ken Elowe explained.
"Wolf genes have been shifting for hundreds of years." Mark McCollough said.
The genetics puzzle fascinates scientists and bores the general public, but it's critical to wolf politics. Maine can't prove that it has wolves through genetic testing alone, because such studies are imprecise and the animals may have traveled here.
The fight over whether an animal is primarily wolf, coyote or domestic dog could keep any attempt at an endangered species listing here tied up in the courts for years.
In 1996, an 81-pound "wolf" was trapped in eastern Maine, then tested and found to have coyote genes, despite its massive size and wolf-like behavior. There still isn't agreement on what to call the animal.
Then in 2000 a reported wolf was captured west of Baxter State Park after it approached people and ate from garbage cans. The animal, which now lives at a wolf-dog sanctuary in western Maine, was likely raised in captivity.
Many Mainers believe that predator advocates are releasing these tame wolves into the wild.
"They think they could be doing nature a favor by starting a reintroduction, kind of a 'Born Free'-type situation," Elowe said.
All of Maine's wildlife groups discourage such action, they say.
"We feel the same way about releasing wolves illegally as we do about people killing wolves," Osborn said.
Rather, they believe that the tame animals that DIF&W claims explain most of the Maine wolf sightings, are probably pets released by owners who can't handle their wild wolf-dogs. Maine tends to draw such people because it's within striking distance of Boston and New York, and the state looks like such a good home for a wayward wolf, Elowe said.
"No one in the city would believe that you could turn a wolf loose in the Maine woods and it wouldn't survive," he said.
Whether an animal is genetically wolf, coyote, or dog, however, any canid predators that manage to form packs and live wild in the Maine woods will change the state's ecosystems.
"If it looks like a wolf and it acts like a wolf, it is a wolf," McCollough said.
Dana Smith is among a chorus of critics who say that Maine DIF&W has its blinders on when it comes to wolves and uses the genetic confusion as a red herring. The "wolf man" has reported dozens of tracks and sightings. He's sent in samples of hair and scat for genetic analysis, but says he hasn't gotten much response.
"It's all a big can of worms," he said. "Personally, I think the upper management of the state doesn't want to hear it."
Lisa Osborn, too, wonders what the state will do when enough wolves trickle over the border to form packs.
"The last thing they want to deal with is another endangered species," she said, with the oft-repeated criticism that DIF&W has the interests of hunters, and not wildlife, at heart. DIF&W relies primarily on hunters and trappers for its wolf reports, often the same people who support snaring coyotes to preserve local winter deer populations.
The northern Maine ecosystem changed with the loss of its chief predator, and game animals like deer and moose have thrived, eventually spawning a multi-million dollar hunt each fall. Wolves are often perceived as a threat to this tradition.
The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, the state's largest hunting lobby, vehemently opposes wolf reintroduction, but would be more accepting of wolves that make it here on their own, said Executive Director George Smith. In a 2003 opinion survey of its membership, however, only 29 percent said that they would like to see wolves return.
"I think the general sentiment for the American public is that they don't want wolves around," Osborn said. "Any wolf that has been found south of the Canadian border (in Maine) has been a dead wolf."
The state has an official wolf policy, which states that reintroduction is opposed, and that a natural recolonization will be neither impeded nor helped along. Locally, wolves are protected only by state poaching laws.
State biologists lack the time and funding to go chasing wolves, particularly after thousands of dollars in research funds were cut to fill the state budget deficit. Going out to find a wolf in the vast commercial forests of northwestern Maine would be "a lesson in frustration," Elowe said.
"They've been on the radar screen for a decade or more, but we haven't found enough evidence that we could effectively spend money on it," he said.
The department gets 20 or more wolf sighting reports every year, many of which come from trappers working in Maine's North Woods. But a single eyewitness report isn't worth much where the Endangered Species Act is concerned. To change the official status of wolves in Maine, Elowe needs irrefutable proof -- like a live capture and evidence that the animal had been living in the wild or a breeding pair with pups.
"It's a Catch-22," McCollough said. "A wolf would be very vulnerable."
Wolves are likely on their way, but won't survive the risks of snares, shotguns and interbreeding with coyotes without protection. Politics will have to catch up with ecology for the Maine wolf to become reestablished, said biologists.
"Both sides need to wake up," Smith said. "There's people that have the means if they just would put their politics aside and get some work done."
Researchers Hope to Control Wolves by Shocking Them
Rick LaFrambois, Marshfield (WI) News Herald, 7 July 2003
A Central Michigan University graduate student and his instructor think they might have found a way to keep Wisconsin wolves from killing livestock: Don't shoot the wolves, shock them.
Jason Hawley and assistant professor Tom Gehring have joined forces with members of the state Department of Natural Resources wolf management program to study how shock treatment can help control wandering wolves.
"There are certain situations where it's not really a problem wolf you have, it's a problem area," Hawley said.
Although the federal government changed the wolf's status in Wisconsin from endangered to threatened - allowing problem animals to be destroyed - Hawley and Gehring point out that other wolves can take their place.
A "problem area" might include a place where a farmer is messy when discarding livestock carcasses, or an area that contains ideal wolf habitat.
What Wisconsin needs in addition to its euthanasia option is a way to control an existing pack without necessarily destroying it, Hawley said. That way, the well-trained pack can reside for years in an area and defend its territory from untrained packs.
A partial solution might be the shock-collar idea, which would deter problem wolves from straying into areas in which they have preyed upon livestock. Hawley acknowledges it's not a perfect plan, and skeptics abound. But if the idea works, it will decrease the number of wolves that have to be destroyed, he said.
The shock plan
Shock treatment is similar to invisible fencing, which dog owners use to keep their pets close to home. Dogs wear a collar tuned into a signal buried around the perimeter of a yard. If the unsuspecting creature roams from its owner's yard, it will get a brief but jarring shock.
Shock treatment, on the other hand, seeks to keep the wolf away from, not near, a problem area such as a livestock farm.
Last year, wolves killed a record 62 domestic animals in Wisconsin, including cows, horses and dogs. Before April, the DNR's only choice was to relocate problem wolves. Now the wolves can be destroyed, and four have been killed since April.
Gehring grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin 15 miles north of Chippewa Falls. He aimed to develop tools that would prevent farmers from suffering livestock losses. But he also grew fond of wolves while studying the animals for his master's level thesis in the mid-1990s.
"I'm really interested in having the two co-exist," he said. "I think it's possible."
To determine that, Gehring landed funding from his university. The Defenders of Wildlife, a national organization, also is contributing to his study as is the DNR with in-kind donations.
Hawley recently moved to a campground north of Tomahawk to begin trapping wolves with DNR wildlife technician Ron Schultz.
They equipped two wolves in separate packs with shock collars. They aim to collar at least one more in a third pack, although trapping wolves has proven tricky on most days. Right now, they have steel foot traps set for a Ranger Island Pack south of Tomahawk and the Somo River Pack, just west of Tomahawk.
The majority of wolves in Wisconsin roam from a line between Merrill and Rhinelander to the north and west.
Wisconsin began the year with about 350 wolves residing in about 80 packs, said Adrian Wydeven, head of the DNR's wolf management program. The number has doubled to about 700 with the arrival of the packs' new pups this spring, but only about 100 pups will survive through the year because of disease and predation by other wolf packs, bears and large coyotes.
Once the wolves are collared, researchers will follow their movement in and around their territory. After they collect enough data, the group will install a command center, possibly on a nearby farm later this year.
'Pretty big wallop'
From the command center, researchers will dial in a signal that has a radius of 100 meters up to a range of about 40 acres. When a wolf enters the range, it will get a two-second-long shock.
"It's a pretty big wallop," Gehring said.
Then the wolf will have time to get out before getting shocked again.
Schultz is a pioneer of using the technology on wolves. He tried it on a lactating female about five years ago out of necessity.
In a very unscientific study, the wolf jumped about four feet in the air and did somersaults when being shocked.
Gehring was led to the study by Schultz's original idea.
But a lot of leg work remains before the researchers can determine if shock treatment is a viable option.
Questions remain, such as how other wolves in the pack will react when the collared wolf gets shocked. The uncollared wolves will teach researchers just as much as the collared wolf.
And, once the collared wolf learns not to go near a protected area, how long will it remember? Batteries in the collars last three to six months, Gehring said.
Another questions: When new wolves are born, will they learn from the elder wolf to stay away from the protected areas?
Even if the collars are somewhat successful, they would be only a partial solution, Gehring said.
"We're not doing this as an end-all to everything," he said. "But if we can use a combination of tools in one place, we might be further ahead than using just one tool."
If researchers can learn to maintain a pack, and have them defend their territory in the process, they will have taught an old dog a new trick.
No fan of wolves
But skeptics abound.
Lori Groskoph of the Lincoln County town of Harrison isn't sold on Gehring's study or the DNR's current wolf-management practices.
She thinks the wolf population is sorely underestimated and would like to see the federal de-listing process speed up, so wolves can be managed in Wisconsin without federal interference.
Groskoph is an avid bear hunter. The mother of one of her dogs was killed by wolves. She said it's common for her dogs to run into wolves during a bear hunt.
"We do take chances when we let our dogs loose, and we know that," she said.
But she wants to see more aggressive management practices, possibly even a limited wolf hunt in Wisconsin once it's taken off the threatened list, because the wolf population has already become too big in her eyes.
"What is different about this group of predators than any other group of predators we deal with in Wisconsin?" she said. "I'm not saying wolves don't belong in Wisconsin, but I own bear hunting dogs and this is a threat to my way of life."
Residents Cry Wolf Over New Neighbors
Dan Egan, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 29 June 2003
Newport State Park -- The stuffed wolf on display at this Door County park headquarters was always just for show.
Visitors would come in swearing they saw a wolf loping about the park's forests and meadows, but then they would get a close-up look at the animal's actual size. They would leave convinced that what they saw was only a coyote, or maybe a fox.
Wolves, after all, may have returned to the deer-thick forests of northern Wisconsin, but nobody figured the king of the carnivores would settle in a place as tame as Door County.
Then last month, an 82-pound wolf was shot by a hunter at the northern end of the county. The shooter claimed he thought he had a coyote in his sights.
The timber wolf is considered threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, and killing one can lead to stiff penalties, but no charges were filed.
"The primary reason is, Door County has never had a confirmed wolf," said Mike Neal, Department of Natural Resources warden. "They're not supposed to be here."
Don't tell that to the wolves.
Evidence of wolves in the county has trickled in over the past several years. Some people have reported hearing howls. Others have seen tracks. Hunters have reported seeing the animals trying to chase down deer.
The reports were initially treated as suspect by the DNR, and the animals often written off as coyotes or dogs. Look at a map, and it is easy to see why. Much of the county is actually an island, thanks to the canal at Sturgeon Bay. This time of year, the animals would have to cross a bridge to get into the area. Also, the City of Green Bay and its suburbs stand between the county and the wolf packs that populate northern Wisconsin.
But take a closer look at the map. Door County is separated from the wilds of Michigan's Upper Peninsula by only about 15 miles of rolling blue water -- an insurmountable distance in summer, but "just a hop, skip and a jump in winter," said Dick Baudhuin, an avid hunter who says wolves have been prowling around his property just north of Sturgeon Bay.
The wolves, which can cover more than 20 miles a day, may be crossing Green Bay via Chambers Island, which sits almost directly between Door County and Michigan's Menominee County, about seven miles from each shore. Another possibility is that the animals are island-hopping south from the Garden Peninsula.
"I guess Door County would have a terrific deer population, but if (the wolves) stayed there too long, they'd be stuck," said Adrian Wydeven, head of the DNR's wolf recovery program.
That might be exactly what happened this year. Reports of wolf sightings have been on the rise, and warden Neal said the evidence suggests that there may now be as many as a half dozen animals in the county.
The fact that wolves are at the Door is just the latest chapter in a remarkable comeback for the once-reviled species.
Wolves in Wisconsin were hunted, trapped and poisoned into oblivion by the 1950s, but thanks to protections under the Endangered Species Act, they have steadily expanded their range in the past two decades from northern Minnesota into Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula.
The latest count is 335, though Wydeven says the actual number may be higher, since wolves that leave their packs are hard to track. Whatever their number, it's apparent that the animals are steadily creeping out of the forests and into the paved corners of the state. In April, a wolf was killed by a car in Waukesha County. The year before, one was hit by a car in Dane County. The year before that, a wolf was found dead along I-94 in Jefferson County.
Evidence is mounting that Wisconsin may be overfilling with wolves.
"This is probably an indication that the habitat in the forest is starting to become saturated," said Wydeven. "We shouldn't assume that, because wolves are showing up in these places, that these places are necessarily suitable for wolves."
Because of the rising numbers, the federal government in April reclassified the wolf from "endangered" to "threatened." That means problem animals, such as those that grow addicted to livestock or pets, can be killed by state or federal employees.
That's good news to hunter Baudhuin, but not good enough. He says more should be done to control the animals, and soon. There have been no reports of wolves preying on livestock or pets in Door County, but Baudhuin says it is a matter of time before conflicts start popping up.
"No question they can exist up here," he said. "But are they going to co-exist with residents and not create problems? No."
Ephraim resident Steve Sauter takes a different view. He was excited to spot what he thought was a wolf last winter. He figures there is room in the county for them, especially in light of the large deer population. He doesn't think the annual hunt does enough to control deer numbers.
"We need to get rid of some of the damn deer," said Souter. "The coyotes can't take them down, and the car is the only thing left."
The automobile might also take its toll on Door County wolves. For now, only government employees can shoot them, and Neal said the next hunter who accidentally shoots a wolf could end up with a stiff fine.
"To kind of put it bluntly, they are on notice," he said. "(Wolves) are here. Now it gets back to one of the first things you're taught in hunter safety -- unless you're 100 percent sure of knowing what you're shooting at, you do not shoot."
Spirit Guides, Healing Souls
Nikki Cobb, The Desert Dispatch (CO), 29 June 2003
When Tonya Littlewolf was a child, small for her age and scorned by her peers for her mixed Apache and Sicilian heritage, her mother gave her a wolf cub to raise.
"Take this little one, and teach it to respect you," Littlewolf said her mother instructed her. "When it is grown, it will teach you."
It's a lesson Littlewolf has never forgotten. She said she feels a kinship with the wolves she rescues at Wolf Mountain in Lucerne Valley, describing them as her pack, her family. She knows each by name, and in a lifetime orf caring for wild creatures she says she's never felt fear.
The sanctuary is home to 14 wolves, animals bred for the silver screen but no longer useful or pets whose well-meaning owners couldn't handle a fully grown wild animal.
"They would have been destroyed," Littlewolf said sadly. "People don't realize that you can't train a wolf. They eat for food, and if they love you, they listen."
That respect and communication goes both ways. Littlewolf says she's a "shape-changer," able to understand the workings of the wolves' minds. Some of her canine comrades are healers, she believes, embodying spirits modern man has lost touch with.
Wolves mate for life and live in complex social networks. Each has its place in the "pecking order," and the whole pack participates in caring for cubs and teaching them to hunt.
Their bodies, too, are connected with nature and adapted for survival in way people aren't. Wolves have sleek coarse guard hairs to repel rain and snow, and a fine fuzzy undercoat for warmth.
Their paws, enormous even in proportion to their 100-plus-pound frasmes, steady the wolves' footing on ice or deep snow. They're out of their element in the desert heat, Littlewolf explains, and she's looking for a more suitable site for her sanctuary, which has been at its current location since 1985.
"I've got to get them out of here. It's not right," she says.
Each wolf eats three to five pounds of red meat daily, and a chicken. Once each week they're fed a rabbit, as well as fruit, vegetables and potatoes.
The biggest misconception people harbor about wolves is that they're dangerous killers, Littlewolf said. She cited the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood as a source and an example of European mistrust of the amber-eyed hunters.
"I want to educate people that the wolves aren't the bad guys, we're the bad guys," Littlewolf said. "We're the one's ruining the earth."
Her goal for now is to find an expansive new site for her rescued wolves, and to participate actively in breeding and conservation prgrams for rare species.
"They're just like people. Different colors, different personalities," she said.
Murkowski Set to Allow Wolf Control From the Air
Joel Gay, Anchorage Daily News, 18 June 2003
Gov. Frank Murkowski has apparently dropped his opposition to a bill that could let private hunters shoot wolves from airplanes, and he is expected to sign it into law today in Fairbanks.
Senate Bill 155 allows private citizens to participate in aerial and so-called land-and-shoot hunting in approved state predator-control programs. It also makes it easier for the Alaska Board of Game to implement such efforts.
Murkowski had objected to a provision in the bill that takes the commissioner of Fish and Game, who is appointed by the governor, out of the predator control decision process. It lets the Game Board design predator-control programs without Fish and Game Department approval.
But the governor apparently has decided the administration retains ultimate authority over predator control in Alaska. Fish and Game can refuse to fund programs and can block private hunters from receiving the federal permit needed for aerial hunting.
"The governor feels fairly comfortable that there will still be sufficient control here," said his spokesman, John Manly.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, was originally considered a housekeeping measure. It aimed to clarify who could participate in aerial predator control programs. The state's lawyers said the state already had authority to use private pilots and that the bill would resolve lingering questions.
Seekins' measure also loosened restrictions under which the Game Board can call for predator control. The existing statutes say that the board must determine the prey population -- moose or caribou -- has fallen below previously established minimum levels.
SB 155 would allow predator control regardless of the prey population.
"It gives you a chance to manage without focusing on just one objective," such as the number of moose around McGrath or caribou around Nelchina, Seekins said in March.
In response to complaints by wolf-control advocates that the Department of Fish and Game under former Gov. Tony Knowles had blocked their efforts, a later amendment said the Fish and Game commissioner's approval was no longer necessary. That drew Murkowski's opposition.
With the new law, the board, not Fish and Game, would establish the objectives, methods and means of predator control programs and determine who could participate and how to control them.
Aerial wolf hunting was a common practice before statehood and is seen as the most effective way to kill the wide-ranging, clever animals. It has proven publicly unpopular, however. As state and federal laws have gradually ended airborne and land-and-shoot hunting, many hunters believe wolves have proliferated and prey has declined. They want aerial hunting back.
No one has legally shot a wolf from the air in Alaska since the mid-1990s, but the Game Board last March listed aerial hunting as its top choice for eliminating about 40 wolves in a predator-control program near McGrath. The board wanted Fish and Game employees to shoot them from helicopters, but Murkowski wouldn't allow it, saying he wanted McGrath residents to take care of the problem.
Seekins' bill may satisfy Murkowski's desire to leave wolf control to private citizens and hunters' desire to shoot from the air. Aerial wolf hunts could be used soon, but sparingly, said Matt Robus, Fish and Game's director of wildlife conservation.
"I'm not going to say every plan is going to be adopted and implemented or not. These are very complicated, case-by-case situations that the department will have to review," he said.
Robus said the department is interested in aerial wolf hunting near McGrath, where the state has been capturing and removing bears in a predator control experiment this summer. One goal is to boost the moose harvest for local residents; another is to monitor the effect of eliminating virtually all large predators from a relatively small area.
Predator control may not be effective in other areas of the state, Robus said, for technological, biological or even social reasons.
"It's not just the wildlife biology that's tough but how different members of the public feel and how that comes to bear on the department," Robus said.
Opponents of aerial wolf control say the Game Board and department will be wise to use the new predator control authority carefully.
"It's not just as simple as permitting a few aerial shooters," said Joel Bennett, a former Game Board member who now represents Defenders of Wildlife. "The state has to analyze the impact of one program on other programs, what the national outcry is going be, how much (department) personnel time is needed for response. It's not a low-impact program."
The last time the Legislature eased restrictions in the state's land-and-shoot laws, voters overturned the action through a ballot referendum. Bennett said opponents of the new law "haven't decided what to do yet."
But a national outcry and tourism boycott could result, he said.
"It's going to be perceived as a state program, that the state of Alaska is using aircraft to shoot wolves. The previous ugly wolf-control efforts of years past will rear up, and that's the image people have."
Board Takes Steps to Allow Landowners to Kill Wolves
Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 29 May 2003
Stevens Point -- Calling them a nuisance in the north, akin to "rats in the city," the chairman of the Natural Resources Board on Wednesday said he wants Wisconsin to start taking steps to let landowners and others kill problem wolves.
With no objections from other members of the board, Trygve A. Solberg of Minoqua asked the state Department of Natural Resources to report back to the board next month about ways to let people kill wolves that prey on livestock and other animals.
Solberg's comments came after federal officials on April 1 removed the wolf from its list of endangered species in Wisconsin, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and North and South Dakota, and downgraded its protective status to "threatened."
The new classification allows government agencies -- the DNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture -- to kill problem wolves, but citizens do not have the authority to kill wolves on their own.
Solberg thinks it's time for Wisconsin to begin the process of having the gray wolf removed from the state's and the federal government's list of threatened species, so landowners and others could kill problem wolves on their own.
Echoing sentiments of leaders of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a group that advises the DNR, Solberg also said he believes that wolf numbers are underreported in Wisconsin.
"I have nothing against wolves," he said. "But I think we already have too many of them. There aren't supposed to be any wolves in my area, but I have pictures of them."
The DNR reported Wednesday that the late winter wolf count in Wisconsin outside Indian reservations was between 335 and 354 -- up from 327 at the same time last year. Adrian Wydeven, the DNR's wolf biologist, said he was comfortable with the estimate.
Wydeven said the state has begun the process of taking the wolf off Wisconsin's threatened species list. That will take about a year, and he said the federal process could take even longer.
Once nearly extirpated in Wisconsin, wolves have made a comeback. People are more accepting of wolves than 50 years ago, and, Wydeven said, a booming deer population means they have plenty to eat.
The change in protected status this spring has allowed DNR wardens to trap and kill four wolves that have destroyed livestock on four farms in Barron and Burnett counties.
Wisconsin has to find a way to deal with problem wolves, said Pam Troxell of the Timber Wolf Alliance at Northland College in Ashland.
"But let's take this new reclassification and give it some time," Troxell said. "Let's not jump the gun."
Troxell said that Solberg's comments "were steeped in emotion" that reflect undue fear of the animals.
"We have to figure out a way to live with wolves," she said.