Wolf Hunting Shouldn’t Be Taboo

  • As wolf populations are increasing, an old question arises: whether or not to allow wolf hunting. (Photo courtesy of the USGS)

In 2003, federal protections for the gray wolf in many parts of the country were downgraded. But last January, a federal district court in Oregon struck down that decision. In this region, the court ruling meant that wildlife officials lost the legal authority to kill problem wolves. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Bob Butz thinks these courtroom battles are delaying the inevitable… and that hunters should have a hand in managing wolves:

Transcript

In 2003, federal protections for the gray wolf in many parts
of the country were downgraded. But last January, a federal district
court in Oregon struck down that decision. In this region, the court
ruling meant that wildlife officials lost the legal authority to kill
problem wolves. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Bob Butz thinks these courtroom battles are delaying the inevitable… and that hunters should have a hand in managing wolves:


Today over half the entire wolf population of the continental United States can be found right here in the Upper Midwest. Around 3,000 in Minnesota. Roughly 800 more split evenly between Michigan and Wisconsin.


Some biologists think that Michigan’s wolf population might actually double within the next decade.
So why are so many people acting as if wolves in these parts are still teetering on the brink of extinction? Why this push for stronger federal protection when is seems what we really should start thinking about is how we plan to keep wolf populations responsibly in check?


With every new courtroom delay, I’m beginning to understand that for some people no amount of wolves will ever be enough. But very soon some judge is also going to figure that out, and finally wolves will be taken completely off the federal list of endangered animals. Then it will be up to the states to manage them.


Yet right now no one is talking about how we’re going to do that. Or where the money to sustain a healthy management program will come from – all because of a dirty little word – hunting.


Wolves… hunting. Remember in public to duck and cover when you say that.


But for the sake of the wolf, somebody needs to start talking about managing them as a big game species. Up until the latest court ruling, some government trappers had a fulltime job killing an increasingly number of nuisance wolves.


Minnesota officials are killing an average of a hundred and fifty wolves every year. In Wisconsin and Michigan each they kill a couple dozen more. Why are these wolves dying for nothing? If biologists used hunters to control the population, each wolf taken out of the system could result in money,lots of it, necessary for managing the species.


While most state biologists sit on the sidelines apparently without a plan, some people are taking matters into their own hands… killing the wolves illegally. In the Upper Midwest, poaching has reached levels unheard of a decade ago.


The reasons for this are simple: As one biologist told me, when an animal becomes too prolific it becomes devalued. As wolves make more and more trouble for farmers, ranchers, and locals, people are starting to wonder where all this is headed.


If brought into the management loop, hunters could easily outshine courtroom environmentalists as the wolf’s biggest hero and financial benefactor. Think of the giant Canada goose, believed to be extinct in North America until their rediscovery in 1965.


And how about all those shrub-eating, bumper bending whitetail deer? Call it tough love, but if anything when hunters get behind an animal recent history proves that the species will flourish.


But first biologists need to come up with a plan that gives the public a stake in helping with the long-term survival of the wolf. Wolves might be endangered elsewhere in the U.S., but not here. It’s time for leadership, time for a vision. Time for game managers to actually get out there and manage. It’s time for biologists to stop playing wait-and-see and, in the spirit of the wolf—for the sake of the wolf—get out in front of this issue and start leading the pack.


Host tag: Bob Butz is a hunter and author of the book “Beast of Never, Cat
of God: The Search for the Eastern Puma.” He lives in northern Michigan.

Related Links

Goose Herding a Growing Industry

  • Giant Canada Geese, Belle Isle, Detroit. (Photo by Celeste Headlee)

In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near extinction to a now-thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for their human neighbors. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the problem:

Transcript

In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near
extinction to a now thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese
gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for
their human neighbors. As the Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Celeste
Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the
problem:


A year ago, dozens of families flocked to Pier Park in the Detroit suburb
of
Grosse Pointe Woods for an annual Easter egg hunt. Children rushed
onto the
grass with their brightly colored baskets and then stopped abruptly when
they found themselves surrounded by Giant Canada geese and their
droppings.


Park manager Michelle Balke says local residents decided
the geese had to go.


“They left droppings everywhere. You couldn’t walk on the grass. They’re
aggressive. If kids start going up to them, they start hissing back and it
got really annoying. They were everywhere.”


It hasn’t always been like that. The Giant Canada goose was so rare 30
years ago that many scientists thought it was extinct. But a few of the
large birds were spotted in the 1960s. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources began
an aggressive recovery program and there are now three and a half million Canada geese in the
U.S.


Conservation agencies say the birds cause hundreds of thousands of
dollars in damage every year because of accumulated droppings, overgrazing,
attacks against people and threats to aircraft.


(sound of geese)


Tom Schneider is the curator of birds at the Detroit Zoo. He trades
glares with a large male bird that has taken up residence on a lawn at the zoo. The
big black and grey goose honks at Schneider, warning him to stay away
from his chosen territory. Schneider says one aggressive bird can be a bit of
a problem, but a large crowd of them is unacceptable.


“People tend to like them until they get to be a certain number where they
become a nuisance, and when they become a nuisance, they don’t want
any geese. So, you might have a lake that has five pairs on there and that’s
great, but if you have 50 pairs of geese on there, it’s not so good
anymore.”


Schneider is a member of the Canada Goose Coalition. The group
includes representatives from the government, hunters, scientists and animal
welfare organizations. The coalition deals with the large population of Canada
Geese in the Great Lakes region. Schneider says one of the problems
with the birds is that they eat grass. Most birds don’t.


“The problem is they don’t have very efficient digestive systems. So they
have to eat a lot of food to get their nutrients, so as a result they
produce a lot of fecal material.”


Schneider says property owners have struggled to deal with large
groups of geese and the droppings they leave behind. One adult goose produces
about a pound and a half of droppings every day. When there are a hundred
birds on a piece of property… well… you can imagine. But the birds are federally
protected. So there’s not a lot that you can do.


(sound of geese)


But…one guy got an idea and called Barbara Ray. Ray had for years
been training border collies to drive sheep when she got a call from a man
looking for a dog to herd birds.


“I had a golf course superintendent who just had an idea about trying to
use these dogs to herd the geese… not chase them because the dog
needed to be under control. We certainly can’t have a dog that catches the geese
and shreds them like other breeds would be prone to do. But one that is
simply jazzed by staring down and moving birds in a specific direction.”


Ray says it was easy for the dogs to learn how to drive geese and one
dog can cover several hundred acres. She says border collies naturally
intimidate prey without barking or attacking, so they’re perfect for this
kind of work.


“What they’re using is a ‘let’s make my day’ kind of approach where the
stock believes if they don’t move as the dog quietly approaches, staring at
them in this intimidating fashion, that they’re probably going to follow up and
do something more demonstrative.”


Ray has built a business around training goose dogs and has so far
sold more than 500 of the dogs. One of those border collies ended up at Pier Park
in suburban Detroit. Manager Michelle Balke says it’s been a year since
the dog, Kate, arrived and there is no longer a problem with geese at the
park.


“She had just gotten rid of them, whether they sense her being here or
what, but they just stopped coming around. They were going next door, they
were hanging out on Lakeshore Road out there, but they just weren’t coming
into the park.”


(ambient sound of geese fade in)


Tom Schneider says goose dogs are an effective, humane way to deal
with Canada geese on private property, but it’s not a permanent solution to
the problem of overpopulation.


“The problem with that program… in many ways, it shifts those problem
geese to a different location, so maybe they may no longer be a problem on
this golf course but now they’re a problem on that golf course. While that
does provide some remedy for the people in those situations, it doesn’t really
solve the bigger, overall picture.”


Schneider has led a goose management program for over a decade at
the Detroit Zoo that involves destroying eggs. That program has cut the
number of geese on zoo grounds from between 500 and a thousand to 50.


This year, Schneider’s team will travel to other places to destroy eggs
and encourage thousands of geese to move on. But you have to have a
permit to do that which is not that easy to do. Schneider thinks goose dogs might
be the best alternative for private landowners.


(ambient sound out)


Goose dogs have become so popular that more than a dozen
companies around the U.S. now train and sell border collies to chase the Giant Canada
Goose.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Celeste Headlee.


(goose sound out)

Wolf Shootings Raise Questions

Conservation officers are worried that an increase in illegal shootings could hamper the gray wolf’s recovery in the northwest Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett explains:

Transcript

Conservation officers are worried that an increase in illegal shootings could hamper the
gray wolf’s recovery in the northwest Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:


Michigan and Wisconsin would like to upgrade their gray wolf populations from
“endangered” to “threatened.” Minnesota’s herd is already classified as “threatened.”
That means the wolf is no longer on the brink of extinction. Pat Lederle is the
endangered species coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He
says although the number of illegal killings is on the rise, that should not affect federal
plans to upgrade the gray wolf’s status. But Lederle says moving the gray wolf off the
endangered list altogether will require a closer look at poaching numbers:


“They’ll take into consideration things like the level of illegal takings that are occuring, if
there’s any disease issues in the population, is the population still expanding.”


Six collared wolves have been shot and killed already this year in Michigan. And at least
eight have been shot in Wisconsin, although that number could climb to ten, once
autopsies of two more wolves are complete.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m
Sarah Hulett.

WHAT IS CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE? (Part 1)

Wildlife officials in the Midwest are battling the appearance of a deadly illness found in elk and deer. Called chronic wasting disease, or CWD, this ailment attacks an animal’s brain, slowly eating away healthy tissue. Several captive elk herds in the western U.S. and Canada have been infected with chronic wasting disease. Those herds have now been quarantined, but not before other animals from those herds were sold to farmers in 21 states nationwide, including several in the Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Melby has this first report of a two-part series:

Transcript

Wildlife officials in the Midwest are battling the appearance of a deadly illness found in elk and deer. Called chronic wasting disease, or CWD, this ailment attacks an animal’s brain, slowly eating away healthy tissue. Several captive elk herds in the western U.S. and Canada have been infected with chronic wasting disease. Those herds have now been quarantined, but not before other animals from those herds were sold to farmers in 21 states nationwide, including several in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Melby reports.


Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disorder. That means it affects the nervous system of elk and deer. It’s related to a number of other conditions, including scrapies in sheep and mad cow disease. Humans can also contract something similar — it’s called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.


All these conditions are related — and that’s making some health officials nervous. That’s because at least one, mad cow, can be transferred to humans. Dennis Stauffer is a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He says now more and more people are also keeping an eye on CWD.


“It’s been called the mad cow disease of deer. It is certainly similar biologically. There are also some important differences. Unlike mad cow disease, or CWD as we call it, we don’t yet have any evidence it is transmittable to humans. So that particular health risk is not confirmed.”


But that doesn’t stop people from worrying.


In the 1990s, mad cow disease in Great Britain triggered a similar ailment in humans, eventually killing dozens of people. But public health officials downplayed that possibility, leading to less vigilance in eliminating mad cow. Some people now say the same thing is happening here with CWD. Sheldon Rampton is the author of “Mad Cow U.S.A.”


“You are getting the same pattern of reassurances. The same pattern of government authorities and government scientists coming forward and not quite saying there is no danger, but saying they don’t see any evidence of danger. And then saying that in such a way that the public is led to believe that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.”


One of the problems is, little is known about the disease. Kris Petrini is a veterinarian with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.


“We don’t know exactly what the incubation period is. We don’t know the youngest possible time an animal can get infected. The testing itself, right now, the only test we have that we can do is the animal has to be sacrificed and the brain tested.”


The outward signs of CWD aren’t exhibited until death is near. Again, Dennis Stauffer of the Minnesota DNR.


“Well, if you were to see a picture of one of these animals, they would be stumbling around, they would look wasted away. In advance stages, they would look disoriented, they would tend not to fear humans. They would look very, very sick and it would be very obvious that they are sick animals.”


Since learning that 36 elk from CWD-infected herds in Colorado and Canada were imported to Minnesota, state officials have set up a voluntary CWD surveillance program. All herds with exposed animals are participating in the program. Of the elk tested for CWD so far, none have had CWD.


(sound from Spooner, Wisconsin deer testing station: Cars on nearby two-lane highway.)


In neighboring Wisconsin, state officials are aggressively testing for CWD. On the opening weekend of deer hunting season, veterinarians took hundreds of brain samples from dead animals at locations throughout the state. In previous years, such efforts turned up no cases of CWD in the wild deer population, just like Minnesota. Ken Jonas is a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.


“Right now, I’m not too concerned. If I were in Colorado or perhaps Wyoming or a state that was near to a chronic infection, I would be very concerned.”


While Kris Petrini, the Minnesota veterinarian, understands CWD hasn’t made it into the wild deer population, she says she wouldn’t be surprised to find it among the captive elk population in the state.


“No, not completely. Not with the number of elk we have and the amount of trading that goes on in the industry, I think it is highly possible that we will find chronic wasting disease.”


Six western states are home to elk herds with CWD infections. Elk farmers in another 15 states — including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — own animals from the original infected herds. So far, tests haven’t turned up any traces of CWD in herds with exposed animals in those states.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Todd Melby in Minneapolis.

KEEPING AN EYE ON CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE (Part 2)

Several captive elk in Colorado have tested positive for chronic wasting disease. This fatal neurological ailment attacks an animal’s brain, slowly eating away healthy tissue. Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has also spread to the wild deer population near the Colorado and Wyoming border. That’s prompted wildlife officials in the Midwest to begin looking for CWD in their wild deer herds. In the second of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Melby visited one such testing site in rural Wisconsin and filed this report:

Transcript

Several captive elk in Colorado have tested positive for chronic wasting disease. This fatal neurological ailment attacks an animal’s brain, slowly eating away healthy tissue. Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has also spread to the wild deer population near the Colorado and Wyoming border. That’s prompted wildlife officials in the Great Lakes region to begin looking for CWD in their wild deer herds. Todd Melby of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium visited one such testing site in rural Wisconsin and filed this report.


The opening of the deer-hunting season in Wisconsin is a big day for Pauline Nol. But it’s not because she’s a hunter. Nol is a veterinarian. Instead of wearing a blaze orange vest, Nol sports a blue Dickie jumpsuit. She’ll need it to keep the blood of dead deer from staining her clothes.


(sound of medical instruments, followed by background sound of Nol and another vet moving instruments around on a table)


Nol and another veterinarian are arranging medical instruments on a folding table. It’s the kind of portable table you might find in a school cafeteria or church basement. Only today, the table is set up outside, in the parking lot of a Department of Natural Resources building just outside Spooner, a small town in northwestern Wisconsin.


In about a half hour, hunters will be pulling up in their pickup trucks to register deer they’ve shot just this morning. When they do, Nol, who works at the Department of Interior’s National Wildlife Health Center, will ask hunters if she might take a few samples from the carcass. The purpose: To check for chronic wasting disease.


Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological illness that is part of the same family of diseases as scrapies in sheep, mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. CWD destroys a deer’s brain and is always fatal. Before death, the infected animal seems listless, confused and often stumbles around aimlessly.


There is concern among some people that CWD may be transmittable to humans. Yet many states in the Great Lakes region, such as nearby Minnesota, have just begun testing for CWD in wild deer herds. While it still seems limited to captive herds, officials are worried the disease could spread. Dennis Stauffer is a spokesman for the Minnesota DNR.


“The greatest problem, we think, in terms of not just the animals but in terms of human health is if this gets into the wild population. That would be, I think, very problematic. Because then once it’s no longer just limited to captive animals, then you have a real issue of how in the world do you get to it and eradicate it.”


In Wisconsin, veterinarians like Nol, have been testing dead deer since 1999. So far, the news has been good. No cases of CWD have been detected in the state’s wild deer herds.


(sound from deer testing station: Cars on nearby two-lane highway)


Back at the parking lot, employees are now ready to tag incoming deer. And that’s got Nol busy too. She strolls over to a couple standing next to a dead buck resting its head on the tailgate of a red pickup.


“Who got the deer this morning? That would be you? Congratulations. That’s great, that’s really great. So, we’re doing some sampling for looking at different diseases in the deer herd. So we’re wondering if we could take some samples from your deer?”


The pair agrees and Nol gets busy. The first thing she does is pull the deer’s head beyond the edge of the tailgate. And then she begins slicing through the fur and into the neck.


“What I’m doing is I’m making a cut in the neck just behind the jaw line. And that exposes the base of the brain, the brain stem and those lymph nodes we’re looking for.”


The lymph nodes are tested for bovine tuberculosis, or TB, a disease that’s been found in Michigan’s free-ranging deer herd since 1994. Wisconsin began testing deer for TB in 1996 and has yet to find an incidence of the disease.


The man who shot the deer is Tom Hack of Hartford, Wisconsin. Once the brain stem, lymph nodes and blood samples are analyzed back at Nol’s lab, Hack will be notified of the results.


There’s been no evidence linking CWD to humans. However, the state is testing deer for diseases and I ask Hack if that gives him pause.


“Well, sure. If I’m going to be eating the meat. Yeah, yeah it would worry me.”


“So, are you going to wait until you get the postcard back before you eat the meat?”


“No, I don’t think so.”


A little later, I catch up with Ken Jonas. He’s a wildlife biologist with the state DNR. This morning, he shot a deer himself. And now he’s tagging animals nabbed by other hunters. I ask him if hunters should wait until they receive their postcards back in the mail before eating the meat.


“No. Again, we consider all the deer currently to be safe in the state of Wisconsin. The monitoring is being done to determine if there is a problem at this point in time. We have no detects of either of those diseases in the wild herd.”


The reason for the testing, Jonas says, isn’t to let individual hunters know of a personal health risk, but to see if CWD has found its way into the state’s wild deer herds. For the Great Lake Radio Consortium, I’m Todd Melby in Minneapolis.

Bear Hunt Casts Wider Net

  • In this year’s bear hunt Minnesota is allowing hunters to take two bears with each hunting license the state issues. Photo by Don Breneman

The number of black bears is increasing across North America, but the fastest-growing bear populations are in the Great Lakes region. The most recent estimates put the region’s population at over 60,000. In Minnesota, the bear population has quadrupled in the past two decades. Wildlife managers think the population is getting too big, and this fall the state is trying to help hunters kill more bears. Minnesota is offering a “two-for-one” deal on bear permits. Hunters can buy one license, and kill two bears. And the state is opening hunting season early, in the last week of August. Some people are upset. They say there’s no need to increase the bear kill. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin has the story:

Midwestern Refuge Aids Wolf Reintroduction


A Midwestern sanctuary for wolves is helping re-introduce the
Mexican Grey Wolf. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports… worldwide the animal’s numbers had dwindled down to five:

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Cormorant Control Begins in Earnest (Part 1)

In many ways, the double-crested cormorant is a wildlife success story. The
birds were almost wiped out by pesticide exposure in the 1960’s. But in
recent years, they’ve returned in large numbers to prime fishing areas in
the Great Lakes and elsewhere. In fact, they’re so good at catching fish,
commercial fishermen have been affected. In the first of a two part series,
the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly found that the biologists who
protect these birds are also looking for ways to get rid of them: