Wisconsin wildlife officials announced a new wolf management plan Oct. 25 which excludes a specific population management benchmark. This means there isn’t necessarily an optimal target but requires continual monitoring of the population. Based on the results of this monitoring, the population will eventually need to be grown, reduced or kept the same.
Wolf management has always been a contentious debate in Wisconsin. Dating back to the 1800s, unregulated hunters wiped out the wolf food supply in order to sustain their own settlements, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. As wolves lost their food source, they began to attack livestock which led the government to place a bounty on them. The bounty was enacted in 1865 and remained in place until 1957 when wolves became an endangered species.
This classification didn’t prove extremely helpful because by that point, wolves had been nearly exterminated from Wisconsin. Then, in 1973 the Endangered Species Act was passed, which allowed for wolves to obtain federal protection. By the mid-1990s, the wolf population in Wisconsin began to grow and has remained stable since. Lately, however, the growth of the wolf population has garnered negative press.
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Population monitoring has been largely unpopular among farmers and hunters who want to limit the wolf population. Farmers have been historically concerned as wolves have always been attacking livestock, a source of their livelihood. When wolves attack livestock it harms the social and economic stability of the farmers. Additionally, hunters who rely on a robust deer population raise concerns that wolves are decimating the population. But, conservation and animal rights groups heavily favor the plan because it increases protections for wolves, whose population has only stabilized recently. Technically, wolves are still on the endangered species list.
While the concerns of farmers who remain fearful for their financial futures are valid, neither killing wolves in the northern part of Wisconsin nor protesting this new conservation plan represents a viable solution. Conservation policies are not designed to please political and social interests, they are meant to protect the animals who are in danger.
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Oftentimes, conservation issues are originally caused by such human interests. People are depleting resources by overfarming and overconsuming products at such a significant rate — almost double the rate for which regeneration is possible, according to Sentient Media. This overuse is caused partially by farming, which creates water shortages and species extinction. Agricultural expansion has been a significant source of forest loss and degradation.
It is this degradation and habitat loss which pushes animals like wolves to prey on farm animals. Their food supply gets decimated by humans hunting their prey, so to survive they turn to easy targets like farm animals. The problem isn’t the wolves themselves. In fact, killing them exacerbates the problem.
A study from the Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory has found that, paradoxically, killing a wolf can increase the risk wolves will prey on livestock in the future. To prevent this increase, one would need to practically decimate the population which would only put wolves back on the endangered species list and the cycle would simply continue.
Hunters and farmers want a plan that puts a hard limit on the wolf population. From a conservation perspective, this isn’t plausible if the best interests of the wolves are kept in mind. A large carnivore specialist from the Wisconsin DNR told AP News that unlimited population goals give more flexibility to species management and give the wolf population a better chance at maintaining a stable population.
It seems to be a lot of the issues surrounding the effect of wolves on humans are caused by humans themselves. If hunters don’t overhunt the deer then wolves wouldn’t need to hunt domestic animals which, in turn, would benefit farmers. Wolves alter their diets in response to changes in the populations of other species in the food web, so if their resources aren’t depleted, wolves will be less inclined to prey on livestock.
In order to resolve the differences between wolves and humans, it is critical there be a larger scope of education surrounding conservation efforts regarding wolves in the state. To improve the relationships between humans and wildlife, farmers can employ various non-lethal techniques in order to protect their animals from wolves, according to Current Conservation.
There is a way for both humans and wolves to coexist in a mutually beneficial way. Farmers can’t survive without their livestock and fragile ecosystems can’t survive without wolves. Each species is critical and it is imperative there be a way to function for the greater good of both.
Sammie Garrity ([email protected]) is a freshman studying journalism and political science.