County wolf tally growsMargie Bouchard was 5 years old when she ran across what she thought was a friendly dog outside her home in Brule in 1959. She’d been playing with her pet dog Peanuts, a Brittany spaniel, when the animal came out of the woods.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Margie Bouchard was 5 years old when she ran across what she thought was a friendly dog outside her home in Brule in 1959. She’d been playing with her pet dog Peanuts, a Brittany spaniel, when the animal came out of the woods.
Unbeknownst to her, the “friendly dog” was actually a wolf.
“We could always hear wolves,” Bouchard said. She remembers her father telling her to listen to the nighttime howls as a child, but she’d never come face-to-face with a wolf before.
So when Bouchard spotted the animal outside her home, she walked over to engage the new playmate.
“I had a blanket that I carried around everywhere,” Bouchard said. “The wolf and I were playing tug-of-war with it.
“I didn’t know that it was a wolf I was playing with.”
A guest who had been staying at the Bouchard’s cabins spotted the wolf and alerted Bouchard’s mother. When 5-year-old Margie was called inside, she found her mother wringing her hands. Bouchard was puzzled when her father was called home from his job in Superior to deal with the wolf, which still lingered near the home.
“I didn’t really understand why they shot it,” Bouchard said. “I couldn’t understand what all the chaos was about.”
Adrian Wydeven, a DNR mammalian ecologist, said the behavior of the wolf that approach Bouchard was highly irregular.
He guessed the animal was sick or had been fed by humans before. It’s also possible, Wydeven said, that the wolf was a domesticated animal that escaped into the wild.
“By 1959, wolves were considered pretty rare in Wisconsin,” Wydeven said.
From 1865 until 1957, Wisconsin put a bounty on gray wolves that drove the population to near extinction. Less than 50 wolves were estimated to remain in the state in the 1950s, and by 1960 the species was considered extirpated.
The gray wolf was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1974, but the population remained low until the 1990s, when the Wisconsin DNR’s wolf recovery plan went into effect. The wolf population surpassed 200 in Wisconsin by the end of the decade, and in 2004 it exceeded the management goal of 350 wolves set by the DNR.
The DNR’s most recent winter count put the population at between 815 and 880 wolves.
The federal government delisted the gray wolf from the endangered species list in the Western Great Lakes Region earlier this year, and Wisconsin’s inaugural wolf hunting season began Oct. 15.
In the first 11 days of Wisconsin’s wolf season, hunters and trappers harvested 29 wolves. Ten of those wolves came from Zone 1, which covers northwestern Wisconsin. None came from Douglas County.
In the 13 days since, Douglas County has closed the gap and now leads all counties in wolves harvested with seven. Six of the eight wolves taken in Zone 1 since Oct. 29 have come from Douglas County.
Wydeven said hunters and trappers in Douglas County may not have felt the urgency to get into the woods for the first days of the hunt. The wolf population Douglas County is “traditionally high density,” Wydeven said.
DNR data from 2011 showed 26 packs claiming at least part of Douglas County in their territory. Douglas County also leads the state in the number of verified wolf depredations for 2012.
Another theory for the slow start is that trappers held off in the early days of the hunt to wait for wolves’ pelts to become thicker.
“That is the typical way trappers would operate,” Wydeven said. “They wait until the pelts are prime.”
Pelts usually reach top quality by mid- to late-November, Wydeven said. But looking at hunt data so far, the number of wolves taken in the first week — five in Zone 1 and 18 statewide — may have spurred trappers into the woods sooner.
Statewide, hunters killed 10 wolves in the opening week while trappers took eight. The ratio had shifted in favor of the trappers by week two, 14-6, and the gap grew in week three, 16-5.
All seven wolves harvested in Douglas County so far have been taken by trappers.
As of Wednesday, 64 wolves had been harvested statewide. The DNR has sold licenses to 825 resident and 6 non-residents.
Zone 1 is more than halfway to its quota of 32 wolves with 20 harvested. Zone 2, in the northeast, and Zone 5, in central Wisconsin, are also nearing their quotas of 20 and 23 wolves, respectively. Zone 2 hunters have taken 15 wolves, and Zone 5 hunters have taken 17.
Zone 4 has one wolf remaining before it reaches its quota of five, and Zones 3 and 6 — both with quotas of 18 wolves — have harvest totals in single digits.
Currently, all six zones remain open, but the DNR may close zones ahead of the Feb. 28 season end date if they reach quotas earlier.
“It’s going to be a very closely regulated harvest,” Wydeven said. “We certainly have no intention of pushing the wolf back to extirpation.”
Hunters should check the DNR website (www.dnr.wi.gov.) for the latest zone closure information or call the DNR telephone reporting system (1-855-299-9653).