Friday, April 25, 2014

Questions, Concerns About The 2014/15 WI Wolf Hunt Quota

[Updated, 12:45 a.m. Friday] The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and its Board, after hearing from a wolf advisory committee, will soon establish a kill quota for the upcoming 2014/15 wolf hunting season after having set quotas of 116 in the 2012/13 season and 251 in 2013/14.

gray wolf
Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I would expect the 2014/15 quota to be no lower.

So-called sporting lobbies, and backers of Wisconsin's bear-hunting season were among the strong supporters of the wolf hunt, and pro-hunting interests now dominate the advisory committee, critics note.

The lobbies are so strong that they have convinced the Legislature to provide, in a reimbursement program unique to Wisconsin, up to $2,500 per bear-hunting dog killed by a wolf - - even if the predation takes place in a declared wolf-caution area. Even to scofflaws.

The establishment of the wolf hunt through 2012 state law was especially controversial because legislators allowed hunters to use leg traps to snare wolves that are then shot in the head. 

Dogs are also permitted in the hunt's late stages - - a practice disallowed in all other states.

As the third wolf hunting season approaches - - the advisory committee meets next week in Wausau - -  concerns have been recently raised by critics on social media about whether wolf pack population data that will be presented to the advisory committee upon which it will use in ultimately making its 2014/15 wolf hunt kill quota recommendation is being vetted with neutrality and transparency.

So I asked DNR officials this week by email to describe how the advisory committee meetings will operate and also about how the wolf pack data has been collected and analyzed.

DNR officials said that all advisory committee meetings will be open to the public, provide for a comment period after the members' discussions are completed, and produce notes - - not electronic recordings - - to be posted on the committee's website.

(I will include at the end of this item the wolf advisory committee meeting schedules announced by the DNR for April and May.)

As to the issues related to the collection of the wolf population data, and whether it has been or will be available to the public prior to its presentation to the advisory committee, the DNR's Dan Kaminski and I have this dialogue over the last two days after I asked:
I gather that the volunteer trackers and DNR personnel come up with numbers of wolves in the state that are used in determining the hunt quota for 2014 that the advisory committee will recommend. 
Are those meetings or discussions to establish the number or that are used as the basis for the 2014 quota that will be put out at the April and May advisory committee meetings already completed? 
If not, will any further meetings or discussions to establish the hunt quota be open to the public for its input, and are there records of such meetings about the 2014 quota available for review?
To which Kaminski responded yesterday:
The data collected through our winter track surveys, along with telemetry data and last year’s harvest data, will all be used to develop minimum winter counts.  Based on those counts, the Wolf Advisory Committee will analyze various harvest levels and how each of those is expected to impact the population going forward.  Again, this meeting will be open to the public and the public in attendance will be allowed an opportunity to speak, typically at the end of the meeting.  Furthermore, the Natural Resource Board will give final approval to recommended quotas and those meetings are typically open to the public and allow public comment.  Most likely, the wolf quotas will be addressed at the June Board meeting, although I can’t confirm this for sure as the agenda has yet to be determined.  For more information on the NRB meetings, please visit the following web page: 
The minimum winter counts are not completed to my knowledge; they are currently being developed by our staff as we have just finalized the winter track surveys early this month or last month.  There are not specific meetings for developing these data or for crunching the numbers with our research scientists.  So in short, there are not opportunities at that level for the public to provide input on the data, nor are there any meeting minutes associated with the data development to provide.
So I asked yesterday afternoon:
And so I understand - - the process to gather and assess the count is a purely internal process, without any outside input - - other than the volunteers'? And is the same process as in past years?
To which Kaminski responded this morning:
This is the same process that we have previously used and is no different than how we evaluate population data for any other species (committees exist for deer, elk, turkey, grouse, fisheries, etc.).  Our research scientists run the statistics on the population data and generate various harvest levels and their expected effects which are presented to the Wolf Advisory Committee for review.  The Wolf Advisory Committee is comprised of various state and federal biologists from the DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, and US Forest Service, as well as public interests groups such as the Timber Wolf Alliance, WI Bear Hunters Association, Wildlife Federation, WI Trappers Association, and Cattleman’s Association, among others.  Also, from my understanding wolf data are independently reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other wolf experts, to ensure reliability and impartiality of our data.  
If you have concerns regarding the process, the WAC is currently in the process of revising the state wolf management plan and there will be several opportunities for the public to provide comment and input regarding wolf management in the state.  It is too early to know where the various aspects of the plan will be set but there will certainly be opportunities for the public to provide input during the process.  Once a draft plan is completed, we will post the plan online and provide a 30-45 day comment period.  We will also host public meetings around the state to allow the public to provide comments directly regarding the plan.  Once a final draft is developed, we will present the plan to the Natural Resource Board and provide an additional 30-day public comment period.  Furthermore, the NRB meetings will be open to the public as to give citizens another opportunity to provide input.  I encourage you to participate in this process as there will be multiple opportunities for you to provide comments on the plan.  Public input throughout this process is highly important and we are working to provide multiple opportunities for such to better inform our decision-making in the development of the new plan.  So far, we have completed a public survey which was sent out to randomly chosen citizens throughout the state to gauge public opinions on various aspects of wolf management; we are currently in the process of compiling those surveys.  A draft of the new plan is expected this fall with the final plan going to the NRB for final approval later in winter.
Here is the meeting information:

April 29
9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Howard Johnson Hotel, 2101 North Mountain Road
DNR Wolf Advisory CommitteeDavid MacFarlandThe committee will continue wolf management plan discussions

May 19
9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
Howard Johnson Hotel, 2101 North Mountain Road
DNR Wolf Advisory CommitteeDavid MacFarlandThe committee will develop the 2014 wolf quota recommendation and continue wolf management plan discussions


Anonymous said...

This article gives a lot of air time to the state but no fact-checking. How about the evidence? What about the experience of the Great Lakes Indian fish and wildlife commission? what about independent scientists without funding from the government? what about retired DNR managers who conducted wolf counts for 20+ years? I have to assume this article is intended to establish the official record prior to verifying it.

James Rowen said...

The posting puts the DNR on the record.

Max B. said...

James, thanks for continuing to shine the light into this very dark closet.

I've often wondered when the people (non-wolf hunting people) of Wisconsin will be reimbursed for the state's (our) expenditures to re-establish wolf populations, monitor their health and breeding habits and conduct the science which the DNR now refuses to acknowledge. We have been cheated out of our value equal to --greater than that of --farmers' depredation losses.