Record 15 hounds killed by wolves this fall in WI

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Wolves go on the attack.

Dogs' deaths hit record level.

By JO SANDIN of the Journal Sentinel staff.

Last Updated: Sept. 29, 2001.

St. Croix Falls - A record 15 hounds have been killed by wolves in Wisconsin this year, all while hunting bear or being trained for the bear hunt, said Adrian Wydeven, who heads the state's wolf management program.

In a report presented Wednesday to the Natural Resources Board, Wydeven said the record high number of kills represented fatal clashes between the state's growing wolf population and the increased amount of bear hunting activity.

Wisconsin's 251 gray wolves are concentrated in 20 counties, with nine packs in six central counties and 57 packs in 14 northern counties, the same where bear populations tend to be highest.

He said all the dog kills were made in late summer and early September, when wolf pups were moved from dens to rendezvous sites in heavily wooded territory, into which the hounds stumbled by accident while pursuing bears or while being trained.

"The dogs tended to be right in the middle of a pack's territory when the attacks occurred," Wydeven said.

Fighting for their lives
One dog was killed in Taylor County, two in Washburn and the rest in Bayfield and Douglas counties, he said.

Wydeven said that only in 1998 - when 11 dogs died - had the number of dogs killed by wolves come anywhere near the total recorded so far in 2001. In 1998, four beagles were killed, the only time such dogs have fallen victim to wolf attack.

"We had a mild winter and a lot of people were out hunting hare," he said. "Because it was so mild, the deer were probably harder for wolves to hunt."

Although there have been a few dogs killed while hunting bobcats, most of the dogs were engaged in bear hunting or training, he said. One bird dog was injured, but not in a hunting situation. Instead, the dog and the wolf tangled when they both visited the same dump of deer entrails.

The DNR reimburses owners for veterinary bills, if their dogs are injured, Wydeven said.

Although gray wolves are listed as threatened animals by the state, they are still on the federal list of endangered species. A move to reclassify them from endangered to threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to be completed by July. However, the process was held up by the change in administrations, Wydeven said.

Until the species is reclassified, the DNR can only trap and remove wolves that kill dogs, livestock or poultry, he said.

Grave danger
However, owners whose animals are killed by wolves can apply for state compensation. Since 1984, when the wolf management program began to follow wolves that strayed into Wisconsin from Minnesota, the state has paid out $158,000 in depredation pay - $68,000 alone for two instances in which wolves jumped fences surrounding deer parks.

Wydeven described some of the common factors which surfaced in a study of the 49 cases of dog kills recorded so far.

Dogs tend to be killed when they stumble into an area where pups are present, where the territory belongs to one of the larger packs, where the pack is young, when there are large groups of dogs in an area and where the wolves have established a territory in an area where there are lots of roads. Hounds are more at risk than other breeds, he said, and most deaths occur July through September.

Of 66 packs located in the state, only six have killed dogs, cattle, deer-park stock or poultry. One pack has been responsible for chronic depredation on a single farm over the last three years. Only two dogs have been killed in attacks within 100 yards of a residence, Wydeven said, so this is not a situation in which wolves are coming into inhabited areas to prey on pets.

However, he said that wolves which had taken down cattle or poultry were likely to consider those animals as future prey.

"That's why it is important that we get authority to trap and euthanize," Wydeven said.

He said animals which had been trapped and moved across the state had not returned to depredation.
 
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