LOBO WATCH
Wolf Impact
Editorial New/Press Release
December 9, 2009

Wolves Impact Deer Populations In Upper Midwest

By Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH



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With the close of the 2009 firearms deer season, Wisconsin deer hunters took home nearly 30- percent less venison for the freezer. They experienced the worst deer season in that state in 27 years. And the hardest hit were the northernmost counties, which just also happen to be the heart of the state's wolf range.

In Florence County, which borders the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the whitetail deer harvest was down a whopping 62-percent...in nearby Oneida County the hunter take was down 50- percent...and in Villas County to the west hunters took 59-percent fewer deer than they did during the 2008 season. All across Wisconsin's northern tier of counties, the harvest was significantly down 40- to 60-percent from last year. And that's mostly due to deer populations that have plummeted during the past several years.

This region is now home to a growing number of gray wolves. According to the Wisconsin DNR, the population is at about 625 to 650 wolves. However, the hundreds of thousands of sportsmen who hit these woods every fall feel there are more - many more. And, that is very likely. It seems that today's wildlife managers do not have the savvy to get a very accurate count.

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A great example can be seen far to the west, in Montana. Here, wildlife biologists have been stuck at around 500 wolves as their "official count" for several years now - completely disregarding the fact that wolf populations, left unchecked, will typically increase 25- to 30-percent annually. Dr. L. David Mech, arguably the world's leading wolf authority, was called on as an expert witness for the 2008 hearings to remove the gray wolf of the northern Rocky Mountain states from protection of the Endangered Species Act. The dynamics of wolf population growth he presented during his declaration clearly show that the wolf population in Montana is more likely 1,000 to 1,200. And hunters tend to agree. In western Montana's wolf range, which runs from the Canadian border south to Wyoming, there has been a near "0" calf elk survival for several years now, due to wolf depredation, and elk numbers are dropping like a rock. In one region, the 2009 elk harvest was down 45%, whitetail deer harvest down 50%, and the mule deer harvest down 45% from the average past five year harvest. Those hunters who did see elk reported seeing no calves whatsoever.

The same thing is now happening to the spring whitetail fawn crop in northern Wisconsin, as well as next door in northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

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One Wisconsin study has shown that 55% of a wolf's diet in this state is made up of white- tailed deer, and another DNR report claims that each wolf consumes an average of 20 deer per year. That would mean the wolves of northern Wisconsin are taking down between 12,500 and 13,000 deer annually. And for a state that claims to have around 1.5 million deer at the start of fall, that seems very tolerable. If the same "deer kill per wolf" holds true next door in Minnesota, that means hunters there are losing 60,000 whitetails annually to the 3,000 wolves claimed by the state - which the MN DNR likes to tout as a conservation success story.

What these figures ignore and hide is the residual impact wolves are having on the deer population of northern Wisconsin, and likewise in northern Minnesota and Michigan. "Out West", where more is now being done to manage an out-of-control wolf population, it has become very evident that the constant pushing of elk and deer by wolves is creating enough stress to cause cow elk and doe deer to abort their young. In Yellowstone National Park, in 2001 there were an estimated 16,000 elk. And thanks to the annual birth of new calves, the average age of those elk was 4 years. Today, that herd is down to 6,000 - and the average age is now 8 years. Wolves are the reason for the decline in numbers, due to both the direct loss of elk to escalated wolf kills, and the loss of calf recruitment. Yellowstone's elk herd is quickly getting old, and sportsmen know it's headed for a disastrous crash. Many feel that within five years, it could be totally lost.

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Deer, or elk, that are constantly hunted by wolves don't have the luxury of fattening up for winter. Consequently, they go into the toughest part of the year undernourished. And when an extended stretch of cold and snowy weather sets in, those that have been run thin by the wolves are more apt to be the first to succumb. Across the snow belt of the upper Midwest, where 3-feet deep snows are very common in February and March, the deer are often trapped in "yards" for a month or longer. For those that are even moderately undernourished at the beginning of an extended period without sufficient feed, it's a sure death sentence.

The most troubling impact wolves are making are the documented occurrences of wolves killing for the mere pleasure of killing. In one instance alone, a small group of wolves in Montana went on a blood-letting spree, and in one night killed 130 domestic sheep - without eating anything. And they are doing the same thing with deer and elk. Despite the claims of "wildlife experts" that wolves only kill the sick, weak and injured, there are now many cases that strongly support that wolves kill as much, if not more, for sport than for food. Many times, dozens of wolf-killed deer or elk carcasses have been found - without any evidence of being fed upon. And as wolf numbers grow, so do such instances.

What astonishes many veteran big game hunters is how state wildlife agency biologists continue to down play the impact wolves are having on deer and other big game. Minnesota DNR fur bearer biologist John Erb has stated, "The data continues to support a conclusion that wolves in Minnesota have not caused, nor are they likely to cause, a substantial multi-year decline in deer numbers."

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Sportsmen are now crying "Hogwash!" to such "data". Despite Erb's claim, northern Minnesota has now had back-to-back deer harvests that have been significantly down. Ironically, although the state's wolf population has basically tripled over the past 25 or 30 years, Minnesota's big game biologists just can't put their finger on why moose numbers are crashing.

There is a fast growing resentment against state wildlife agencies which now seem to put far too much effort toward covering up for the wolf. Likewise, most hunters want wolves in the northern Midwestern states removed from federal protection, and to get much needed management hunts established. Sportsmen are losing faith in these departments to wisely manage these apex predators, which are now making a very negative impact on deer and other big game.

Mark Johnson, of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, observes, "It is pretty obvious that the public tolerance of increasing and expanding wolf numbers is nearing its limits in part because of lower deer numbers, but also due to more wolf sightings and caution caused by reports of more aggressive wolf behavior."

In regard to a 2009 season harvest that was 30-percent lower than the 2008 season in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, one hunter says, "I live in the Upper Peninsula and hunt in the lower peninsula and I did shoot a deer this year. They don't shoot deer in the upper Peninsula anymore because wolves have ate a majority of them. It is not what the DNR tells you. They don't want to say that wolves go into the deer yards in the winter and have a deer killing frenzy." The manner in which the game departments in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan are handling the wolf issue has a lot of sportsmen wondering if these agencies now have a new agenda - to let wolves replace the human hunter's role in wildlife management. Most hunters are not happy with how these game departments continue to turn a blind eye to the devastation wolves are dealing wildlife populations.


(Note: This LOBO WATCH release was written and distributed in December 2009 - shortly after the firearms deer seasons in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan had closed - and the 2009 harvest tabulated. Since there were no management wolf hunts held in the Northern Rockies in 2010, using Dr. L. David Mech's accepted annual wolf population growth model, there are now (December 2010) approximately 1,400 to 1500 wolves in the state of Montana, maybe as many as 4,000-4,500 in the entire Northern Rockies. Likewise, there are now more wolves in the Upper Midwest. And every where there are more wolves as we near the end of the year, there are a lot less deer, elk, moose and other big game animals. - Toby Bridges, December 9, 2010)



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