Caution urged after wolf packs kill two dogs
By: By Joe Knight, The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Superior Telegram
Until this summer wolves and dogs in Clark County had gone their separate ways.
A few wolves attacked dogs in Jackson County in the mid-1990s, said Department of Natural Resources biologist Adrian Wydeven, but since then central Wisconsin has not seen dog attacks, even though wolves have become well-establshed.
But on July 4 wolves killed a hound in southwestern Clark County. On July 7 another wolf pack killed another hound in western Clark County near the Eau Claire County line.
In both cases the dogs were in the woods because they were being trained for bear hunting. The bear dog training season runs July 1 to Aug. 30.
Training bear dogs by chasing bears in central Wisconsin is allowed, but hunting bears with dogs in central Wisconsin is not.
If you have the appropriate permit, you may shoot bears in central Wisconsin by hunting over bait but not by chasing them with dogs.
If a wolf pack kills a dog, there is a risk they will do it again. The DNR posts maps of the wolf pack's territory and advises bear dog owners to steer clear. The wolves in Clark County had no history of attacking dogs, so there were no warning maps.
There are now.
The caution map for the Eau Claire River pack shows most of the Eau Claire County Forest as potential range for the pack. It gives Kelly Road and Highway G as western boundaries -- roughly a north-south line from the eastern edge of Lake Eau Claire.
The boundary of the caution area is larger than the actual territory where dogs are likely to encounter the pack, but the DNR wanted to mark the boundaries with roads that were easy to identify, Wydeven said.
The closer you are to the site where the dog was killed, shown as a dot on the map, the more likely you are to encounter the pack, Wydeven said.
Wolves have been in Clark County for some time now, and hunters have been training dogs there for some time with no wolf-dog incidents. What made two different wolf packs kill two dogs in Clark County in the span of a few days?
Wydeven offers some educated guesses.
- The number of people training dogs in the central forest may be increasing as the bear population expands.
- People training bear dogs may be saving some miles and running their dogs in the central forest.
- People training dogs also may feel their hounds are safer from wolves in the central forest because of the lack of previous attacks.
- The size of the wolf packs in Clark County also are increasing, and larger packs are more likely to attack dogs than smaller packs, Wydeven said.
The Eau Claire River pack had five or six adults, plus pups born this spring. The Brushy Ridge pack in southwestern Clark County had five adults and pups born this spring.
These are good-size packs by Wisconsin standards, and bear dog trainers are restricted to using no more than six hounds. The wolves may think that even odds are good odds.
In a study of wolf and coyote encounters in Yellowstone National Park, wolves usually chased off smaller coyotes, except in cases where coyotes had superior numbers, Wydeven said.
Both packs also had pups, according to the DNR, which would have made the wolves more protective if the dogs passed near the pups.
But wolves don't just attack bear dogs. On July 7 a dachshund was killed near Clam Lake, in northern Wisconsin, by wolves. The 9-year-old dog probably was not chasing bears but ranging on its own in the woods.
"We included it in the report because it happened in an area where training is occurring," Wydeven said.
In June a man was out with his beagle in Adams County when a wolf crossed the trail in front of them. The beagle chased the wolf, despite the owner's best efforts to call it back. When the dog returned it had been bitten by the wolf and had to be put to sleep.
The lesson for dog owners in a wild area is to keep your dog on a leash or within close voice contact. Free-ranging dogs are hard on ground-nesting birds and young animals, and if the dog encounters a bear or wolf with their young the results are likely to be bad for the dog.
For people training bear dogs, avoiding wolves is harder. They want to run their dogs in big blocks of forest land to avoid trespass issues and because that's where the bears live. That's also where the wolves live.
They can consult the DNR caution maps, but as the Clark County wolves have shown twice in one week there's always a first time.
Kendal Durham of Neillsville, president of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, said it's hard for bear hunters to train their dogs without the risk of running into wolves.
Durham said bear hunters view having a dog killed by a wolf as different from having a dog killed or injured by a bear. The dogs want to hunt bears, and if they are injured by bears it is in the process of doing something they love to do, while the wolf attacks are unprovoked and are usually lethal.
Owners of dogs killed by wolves may be compensated up to $2,500 from the state's endangered resources fund, but Durham said that still may not cover the value of a prime bear hound.
Wolves may kill dogs any time of year, but biologists say they are especially touchy in July and August when the pups tend to stay at rendezvous points while the adults hunt and bring back food.
Unfortunately for bear hunters, July and August are when they train their dogs.
Copyright (c) 2009, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services