Earlier this month, six researchers from around the country issued a letter of concern about the management of Wisconsin’s wolf population.
Their letter was directed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - the federal agency responsible for intensive monitoring of wolves in Wisconsin until 2017.
One of the co-signers of the letter is UW-Madison environmental studies associate professor Adrian Treves. He says that the monitoring requirement is spelled out by the Endangered Species Act, “which reflects the need for monitoring to be careful, sophisticated and up to the standards of today’s wildlife sciences.”
Treves says the team of scientists that he lead found that the agency's monitoring was not up to those standards. They question the quality of wolf tracking and monitoring since the wolf’s delisting.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources coordinates the annual count, a practice that dates back to 1979. Treves began observing teams in the 1990s.
“That was a system that I observed closely," he says. "I felt very reassured seeing every step of the process done as carefully as possible."
Treves' view changed during the winter of 2013-2014 when, he maintains, the methods changed. "Those methods for counting wolves changed substantially and they changed in a way that made them not transparent and not open to public scrutiny or scientific scrutiny," he says.
Treves and his fellow co-signers are calling for a temporary emergency relisting of wolves as endangered to allow an independent team of scientists to review the status of the population since an annual hunt launched in Wisconsin three years ago.
“The emergency relisting allows the Secretary of the Interior to take a step back, allow the independent scientific review to be completed before they continue delisting the wolf,” he says.
Treves’ concerns are not assuaged by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released earlier this week. It states the gray wolf population throughout Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin has increased in the past year – reportedly from 3,678 to 3,719.
“That estimate of the wolf population in the western Great Lakes district should be looked at very carefully and skeptically; in fact, independent scientists should be studying it to see what it is based upon,” he says.
Treves is not advocating that he, or the scientists who co-wrote the letter of concern, carry out the review. “You could say that we’re too close to the issue," he says. "There are independent groups out there that have the technical expertise that we need to make that evaluation.”
Wisconsin's third annual wolf hunt is underway. It began October 15 and continues until the end of February, unless the season quota is reached earlier. That appears likely - more than 100 wolves have already been killed.