By Laurie Grosskopf
For the eighth year, I reviewed in detail the tracking data from this year’s wolf count. The wolf count is conducted each year from December to mid-April, when the wolf population is at its lowest point. The count consists of data from tracking collars and on-the-ground counts by volunteers and DNR personnel. Public reports are also used.
This year’s minimum overwinter count is 925-952, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year’s count. The pack count has increased to 232. Find wolf information by typing “wolf” into the subject line on the DNR’s face page.
Wolf counting was done this year in 161 units designated by the DNR. Three were not tracked, one used only scent posts, and 62 were tracked at less than the DNR’s minimum standard of 60 miles and at least three tracking surveys. Fifteen tracking units created previously were “deactivated” and not used this year. This means 66 of this year’s units were not tracked adequately, although some may have had information from tracking collars.
In addition to the 40% of units not tracked to standards, about 1/3 or more of the state is not tracked at all. Only two public reports from that portion of the state were used as part of the count, in Outagamie and Grant counties. Twenty percent less tracking mile were completed this year compared to last year.
Of the units tracked, 132 had tracking done by DNR personnel, and 94 used volunteers. There was some overlap between DNR personnel and volunteers in some units.
While Wisconsin’s Wolf Count has been called the “gold standard” of actual counts, it differs from other states that use ground information and estimation techniques to create a minimum population estimate. Minnesota (15%) and Idaho (12.5%) add lone wolf rates. Wisconsin counted only 28.
Why does wolf count matter? This minimum count is used to apply management standards which guide responses to wolf attacks and harassments and to design the wolf harvest. Therefore, having an accurate assessment of wolf numbers in Wisconsin is essential to acceptable and believable wolf management.
To create a true wolf population estimate, I suggest adding a reasonable estimate of lone wolves. We need to adjust inadequately tracked and untracked areas of the state using information from known areas that are tracked adequately and are similar. These adjustments would increase confidence in Wisconsin’s wolf management program, and result in more appropriate management.