Hunting and politics, especially today’s version, never mix well

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No modern political party has injected politics into Wisconsin’s hunting and wildlife-management programs like Republicans during Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, and yet several GOP leaders in key natural-resources positions have feeble credentials as license-buying, game-harvesting hunters.

Harsh? Not really. When Walker ran for governor in 2010, he touted “Scott’s Plan” for deer hunting. He promised voters he would appoint a “deer trustee” to revise the state’s deer hunting program, and told crowds, “Like most sportsmen, I’m tired of sitting in a deer stand all day and not seeing any deer.”

During the 2010 and 2014 races, as well as the recall election in 2012, “Sportsmen for Walker” signs were common statewide.

The GOP even institutionalized litmus tests for the outdoors. After taking office in 2011, Walker and his party passed Act 149, which requires at least three members of the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board to have held a hunting, fishing or trapping license in at least seven of the 10 years before they were nominated to serve. That policy took effect in May 2017 for the NRB, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources.

You’d think folks setting such standards would have impeccable qualifications themselves. But an open-records review of license purchases and game-registration files shows Walker himself wouldn’t have qualified for one of those license-based NRB seats until three years ago. He didn’t buy his first hunting license until March 2007, and didn’t fish until buying his first all-inclusive conservation patron license in March 2010.

RELATED:Following in Aldo Leopold’s footsteps along the Rio Grande

That standard also would have disqualified Cathy Stepp, who served as Walker’s DNR secretary from January 2011 through August 2017. Stepp didn’t buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license from 2003 through 2010. She then bought a fishing license, and hunting licenses for deer, turkeys and geese in March 2011, roughly two months after taking control of the agency the NRB oversees.

Unlike Walker – who has yet to register a deer in Wisconsin despite being licensed to do so every year from 2007 through 2017 – Stepp shot deer three straight years from 2011 to 2013. She added a turkey to her kills in May 2016.

Although Walker and Stepp would now qualify for any NRB seat, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, does not. Tiffany, chairman of the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry, has owned hunting or fishing licenses only five times since 2004. He bought no licenses from 2009 through 2014, and none in 2017.

And even though only two of Tiffany’s licenses included deer hunting privileges, he felt qualified to lead efforts to eliminate earn-a-buck rules and October gun-deer hunts statewide in 2011. Earlier this year, he also helped relax baiting-feeding bans for deer hunting.

Even so, one of Tiffany’s cheerleaders is Mukwonago’s Greg Kazmierski, who’s been widely regarded by DNR staff as Wisconsin’s true “deer czar” since Gov. Walker appointed him to the NRB in 2011. “Kaz” is credited with getting the governor to appoint Texas’ James Kroll as Wisconsin’s deer trustee in 2012, and then rewriting deer regulations to his liking once Kroll went home.

Still, no one can look at Kaz’s license-buying history and lump him in with Stepp and Walker as a politically expedient deer hunter. He’s registered seven deer in 11 seasons since 2007, and bought gun and archery deer licenses annually since the state began tracking sales electronically in 1999.

But Kaz is no “hunting and fishing fool” – a compliment among outdoors-folks. He hasn’t bought a turkey license since 2005 or a small-game license since 2002, and never fished from 2001 through 2012. He even qualified for a $5 first-timer’s fishing license in 2013, but hasn’t fished since.

Current DNR Secretary Daniel Meyer, who replaced Stepp in September, has more diverse outdoors interests. Judging by his license purchases, Meyer routinely fishes. He also regularly hunts small game, including waterfowl and wild turkeys, but seems more casual about deer. Meyer bought an archery-deer license in 2003, never registered a deer from 2007 through 2016, and didn’t buy a gun-deer license in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. However, Meyer killed a deer in November.

That brings us to Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage. Given the modest overall credentials of the GOP’s aforementioned outdoors team, one might mistakenly think Kleefisch is trying to single-handedly boost the party’s hunting credibility.

He’s kept his hunting knife bloody since buying his first small-game license in 2003 and his first deer license in 2004. I say that with respect. Since the DNR began tracking individual harvest data on whitetails, wild turkeys and Canada geese in 2007, Kleefisch has registered 19 deer, 39 turkeys and 236 geese. Those aren’t misprints.

Further, by my unofficial tally, Kleefisch has spent $2,577 on tags, licenses and associated fees since 1999. Few of his fellow legislators can rival such numbers.

Unfortunately, Kleefisch likely leads the Legislature in game violations, too. The DNR cited him in 2013 for registering a deer too late, and cited him again in 2016 for overbagging turkeys when accidentally killing two with one shot. He also received three warnings for previous turkey- and goose-hunting violations.

One thing these GOP leaders seldom do, however, is donate extra money to state-run conservation efforts such as the Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund, venison and turkey processing fund, or the endangered species or aquatic invasive species programs. Kazmierski donated $10 to Cherish Wisconsin in 2016. Walker gave $10 to general fish and wildlife funding in 2011; and twice contributed to venison processing, giving $1 in 2009 and $20 in 2010. The rest combined to give $0.

And just so you know, DNR records credit me with 12 deer registrations since 2007; 18 straight years of buying a patron’s license and extra tags for $2,602.50; and $49 in donations to the venison processing, fish and wildlife, Cherish Wisconsin and aquatic invasive species programs.

Does any of that make me special? Of course not. But I’m also not the one who uses hunting for political gain.

I’m just reporting it.

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Hunters and severe winters — not wolves — key to Wisconsin’s deer numbers

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When it comes to gray wolves and white-tailed deer, there are enough deep-seated beliefs to fill the Dells of the Wisconsin River.

Some of them, like many of the acts in the nearby town, are based more on fiction than fact.—

Here’s one: The wolves are killing all the deer in northern Wisconsin.

It’s not a new refrain, but it’s one I continue to hear from some of my hunting colleagues each year.

Now in late summer 2017, as bucks begin to lose their velvet and wolf pups start to venture out more with adults, conditions are ripe to discuss trends in both species.

In a word, both are “up.”

There are 480,273 deer in the 18-county northern forest management zone, according to the 2017 pre-hunt population estimate from the Department of Natural Resources.

The 2017 number represents an 18% year-over-year increase.

The population of wolves, as you may know, is at an all-time high in Wisconsin. The DNR in June reported a record high of at least 925 wolves, most of which are in northern Wisconsin.

The latest wolf report represents a 6% increase from 2015-’16 and a 24% rise from 2014-’15.

So the two iconic wildlife species have been increasing in number across Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

Why? And how can it be? If wolves are at an all-time high – and if they “eat all the deer” – shouldn’t the deer herd at least be falling?

A look at the data and management related to each species can be illuminating.

The wolf population has increased largely due to a December 2014 federal judge’s decision that placed the western Great Lakes population under protections of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling has prevented state officials from holding public hunting and trapping seasons or using other lethal means to manage the species.

Deer have been increasing partly due to protection, too. For the last several years, the number of antlerless deer permits has been significantly reduced in northern units. Some counties have allowed zero.

With more female deer allowed to live and reproduce, the population assumed an upward trajectory.

Mother Nature is the other primary factor allowing deer herd growth in the north. The last three years have been marked by “soft” winters, including the fourth (2015-’16) and sixth (2016-’17) mildest on record since 1960, according to the DNR’s Winter Severity Index.

In contrast, two very rough winters took a toll on the deer herd in 2011-’12 and 2012-’13. The 2011-’12 winter was the third most severe on record; the following year was especially tough on deer since winter conditions lasted into May.

The milder winters have been reflected in recent years in higher fawn-doe ratios and a higher proportion of yearling bucks with forked antlers, according to DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang.

Another factor – habitat – likely has improved marginally in northern Wisconsin in recent years due to some changes in forestry practices. But it’s harder to quantify and likely takes longer to show its effects on the deer herd.

I find the status of both species particularly interesting now, as wolf numbers have climbed to a record high.

Wolves obviously eat deer. According to most experts, an adult wolf will consume the equivalent of 20 adult-sized deer annually.

But when compared to other sources of deer mortality in Wisconsin, wolves rank down the list.

I ran the numbers and trends past David Mech, senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in St. Paul, Minn. Mech has studied wolves for 59 years and is considered an expert on the species and its effect on plant and animal communities.

“Under these current Wisconsin regulations and conditions, wolves are apparently not a competitor, or aren’t really having that much of an impact (on deer),” Mech said.

The leading causes of deer mortality in the state, as Wisconsin wildlife managers have long said, are human hunters and severe winters.

A 2009 DNR document ranked the deer kill in Wisconsin’s northern and central forest regions this way: 122,000 deer killed by hunters (bow and gun), about 50,000 due to winter stress (the range could vary widely), 33,000 to black bears, 16,000 to coyotes, 13,000 to motor vehicles, 13,000 to wolves and 6,000 to bobcats.

The trends over the last few years in northern Wisconsin are clear.

When I was in Bayfield and Sawyer counties in May for the Governors Fishing Opener, I counted 72 deer on an evening drive from Cable to Hayward.

The conditions reminded me of the plethora of deer I used to see in the area in the mid to late 1990s.

Wolves are up in number. Deer are too.

Humans and Mother Nature have far more control over deer populations than wolves ever will.

I’m hoping my hunting buddies read this. But as always, I’ll be happy to tell them in person.

Pass it along to your friends, too.

As we move forward with management plans on both species, it’s important to bring as many facts to the debate as possible.

Man dies in Sauk County hunting accident

http://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Man-dies-in-Sauk-County-hunting-accident-467482023.html

TOWN OF GREENFIELD, Wis. (WMTV) — A Milwaukee man is dead after a hunting accident in Sauk County.

The Sauk County Sheriff’s Office said they received a call around 10:35 a.m. on Sunday for a hunter who had fallen out of a tree stand and had fatal injuries.

Authorities say 50-year-old Jacob Herr was using a self-climbing tree stand on public hunting land with a family member on Tower Road in the Town of Greenfield.

The sheriff’s office said Herr was found by a hunting companion near the base of a tree. He was wearing a safety harness, but it was not attached to the tree.

Opening weekend: Deer hunting licenses for children up by 1000+ from last year

Opening weekend: Deer hunting licenses for children up by 1,000+ from last year 🦌

fox6now.com 1h ago

MADISON — Deer hunting licenses for Wisconsin children were up by more than 1,000 from last year by the end of opening weekend for the nine-day gun season.

The Stevens Point Journal reports that the mentored license allows children to participate in the hunt as long as they’re accompanied by an adult. This was the first hunting season since the state’s minimum age to hunt deer was eliminated. Children had to be at least 10 years old to hunt with an adult until Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law earlier this month.

State hunters had purchased 17,267 mentored hunting licenses for opening weekend, up from 16,139 bought by about the same time last year.

Sales of pink hunting clothing not blazing in Wisconsin

http://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/outdoors/2017/11/10/sales-pink-hunting-clothing-not-blazing-wisconsin/852710001/

RICHFIELD – Blaze pink, authorized in 2016 as a legal hunting color in Wisconsin’s gun deer seasons, has failed to make a splash among hunters, according to several retailers in the state.

In fact, Cabela’s in Richfield, one of the state’s largest outdoors stores, didn’t even offer blaze pink hunting coats this season after stocking a limited amount in 2016.

Corporate officials did not return calls seeking comment on the decision.

A few blaze pink coats were available at Sherper’s in Hales Corners, but demand has been soft for the products, said vice president Nate Scherper.

“We haven’t had a huge response to it,” Scherper said. “We’ve really had very few people looking to buy it.”

Scherper said his store had about 95% blaze orange and 5% blaze pink items in stock.

“Most of our female customers prefer the orange over the pink,” Scherper said.

The racks at Mills Fleet Farm in Germantown also had less than 10% blaze pink items. But sales there had been “decent,” said assistant manager Tim Geschke.

“There’s been a moderate reception to it,” Geschke said. “The vast majority of our sales are still blaze orange, however.”

At Dick’s Sporting Goods in Brookfield, blaze pink was selling less than blaze orange, but it “was moving,” said sales associate Joe Schroeder.

When Gov. Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 291 into law in February 2016, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to allow blaze pink for deer hunting.

The law elicited a wide range of responses. Proponents of the bipartisan legislation hoped it would help recruit hunters by offering more options.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), who introduced the bill with Rep. Nick Milroy (D-South Range), proudly brandished pink clothing as he talked up the legislation.

“We have no illusions about women flocking to hunting because of blaze pink being allowed,” said Kleefisch at a 2015 hearing for the bill. “We’d like to provide more choice to all.”

The bill obtained 38 co-sponsors in the Assembly.

But many hunters, including women, considered it a joke or worse.

“I think it’s really misguided,” said Sarah Ingle of Genesee, president of the Women’s Hunting and Sporting Association and a hunter for about 25 years. “Among the group of women I hunt with, we find it insulting and demeaning.”

Geschke, the Fleet Farm assistant manager, said the pink appeared to be more of a “fad” and appealed more to the “trend conscious.”

So far, it hasn’t been sufficient to produce strong demand for blaze pink, Scherper said.

Parents chime in on decision eliminating state’s minimum hunting age

WISCONSIN The State Assembly passes a bill eliminating Wisconsin’s minimum hunting age.

“I think we’re losing sight of why the original law was put into place, it was put into place to protect children,” said Joe Slattery, a concerned parent.

Slattery opposes the measure. Right now the minimum age to buy a gun-hunt license is 12 years old, but children as young as 10 can be part of a mentored hunt.

This bill removes the minimum age from the mentored hunt program and eliminates the requirement of only one weapon between hunter and mentor.

Jordan Schuld is an avid hunter with five kids. He believes parents know their children’s capabilities.

“Each parent knows their own child and knows when they’re ready to go out in the woods, if they’re able to hold the gun weight wise and if they’re responsible enough to handle it,” Schuld said.

Schuld doesn’t agree with the entire proposal, he still favors a mentor hunt having only one gun.

“I just don’t think that there should be two weapons between the parent and the child, I think a mentor hunt is a mentor hunt, and if you have two weapons it’s not a mentor hunt anymore, two people are hunting,” said Schuld.

According to the Michigan DNR, studies show if children do not have an interest in an activity before the age of 10, it is unlikely that they will continue that activity later in life.

“As a parent, I would like my child to have the same interests as mine, but if they don’t– they’re their own individual,” said Slattery.

Slattery says this legislation would lead to more hunting accidents, like the one that took the life of his son.

“You can get them involved at six, by taking them hunting with you, that’s perfectly legal right now, you just don’t have to put a gun in their hands, my son was killed at the hands of another 13-year-old,” said Slattery.

“If one my kids seem ready and they’re under 10, I’ll absolutely take them hunting, if not, I’ll wait,” said Schuld.

The State Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week, if passed there it would head to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

WI Man dies in hunting accident

http://wsau.com/news/articles/2017/oct/30/man-dies-in-hunting-accident/

hunting accident (Source: Midwest Communications)
hunting accident (Source: Midwest Communications)

HARDING, WI (WSAU)  There was a fatal hunting accident in Lincoln County last week.

The sheriff’s department reports that 59-year-old Donald Peterson from Racine was hunting near the Town of Harding on land off Camp Avenue when his tree stand let loose. He was hunting alone at the time. His body was found hanging from a tree by another hunter on Thursday afternoon.

He was pronounced dead at the scene. It’s not clear exactly when the accident happened.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Natural Resources are investigating the incident.

Despite extinction crisis, hunters push to kill wolves and sandhill cranes

 by Patricia Randolph

As humanity hurtles toward catastrophe, our legislators turn a blind eye to reality and continue to pander to forces of destruction and death. Instead of caring for the fragile life of this earth, legislators like state Sen. Tom Tiffany and U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson continue to ignore the science of the Endangered Species Act, pushing to kill our endangered wolves.

And the hunters want to kill cranes. They apparently are bored with killing other wildlife. Maybe they want a wolf with a crane in his mouth to hang on their walls.

It is not that difficult to connect the dots between the status quo and certain trajectory toward an unlivable and desolate home planet. The skies are emptying, as are woods and oceans — not through any natural force, but only by the violence of man. Chris Hedges writes in his recent “Reign of Idiots”: “Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering, exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress. … They believed that this orgy of blood and gold would never end, and they still believe it.”

Tiffany held yet another wolf hate conference, in early April, that was completely skewed to myth, lies, and fearmongering. He should be reminded that Richard Thiel, retired DNR wolf biologist, said on Wisconsin Public Radio, “I have worked with wolves in Wisconsin for 30 years. I have pushed them off of deer carcasses and had them walk right up to me. I never felt the need to carry a firearm and I never did.” Tiffany has been informed that only 2/10ths of 1 percent of livestock deaths can be attributed to wolves, whereas 90 percent of pre-slaughterhouse death is due to horrific farm conditions.

Yet Tiffany, Baldwin, Johnson and many other Republicans are bloodthirsty in pursuit of wolf-hater votes.

The Center for Biological Diversity describes the acceleration of extinction: “Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species’ extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.”

Yesterday, May 6, the DNR held a Wisconsin hunter education convention “on the future of hunter education with statewide experts in the field of hunter recruitment, retention, and reintroducing people of all ages to the outdoors and hunting.” For years, the DNR has offered $5 licenses to entice new hunters and trappers, especially targeting women and children, to bolster its power base of hunters and trappers.

The DNR has recruited and trained another 10,000 trappers over the past five years, deregulated lead shot and weapons and massively extended and liberalized seasons, shooting ranges, and access to public lands. It is paying for private land access. It is permitting the use of dogs to chase our wildlife without mercy or licenses, anytime, anywhere, with little or no oversight. It is paying $2,500, from the Endangered Species Fund, for each dog killed by wolves or bears defending themselves and their young.

In 2015-16 the DNR’s self-reported survey documented 284,395 wild animals crushed in traps throughout the state. Prices were down in that time period, with prices ranging from 71 cents for possums to $75 for bobcat skins. The total monetary value comes out to $1,258,651 or $4.42 per wild animal killed. Trappers are the only citizens who can destroy unlimited wild animals for profit, indiscriminately, and self-report.

Nonhunters have zero say.

If the 4.4 million voting-eligible citizens each put in 29 cents, we could buy back our 284,395 innocent wildlife and save them from such suffering and needless death. We are not given the option. Only death has a price tag and license.

The Center for Biological Diversity warns, “(C)onserving local populations is the only way to ensure genetic diversity critical for a species’ long-term survival.” That means wolves, bears, bobcats, beavers, coyotes, and all wild life.

As Chris Hedges writes in “Reign of Idiots”: “There is a familiar checklist for extinction. We are ticking off every item on it.”

Midwest, Wyoming lawmakers target wolf protections again

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/energy-environment/midwest-wyoming-lawmakers-target-wolf-protections-again/2017/02/26/5e4ce15c-fc50-11e6-9b78-824ccab94435_story.html?utm_term=.73e2d4001ac9
February 26
MINNEAPOLIS — Pressure is building in Congress to take gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region and Wyoming off the endangered list, which would allow farmers to kill the animals if they threaten livestock.

Representatives from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming have asked House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for a fast floor vote before the season during which most cows and sheep will give birth begins in earnest. That followed testimony before a Senate committee a week earlier from the president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, who said producers need to be able to defend their livestock and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, both sides in the debate are waiting for a federal appeals court to decide whether to uphold lower court rulings that put wolves in the four states back on the list or to let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service return management of the species to the states, which it has wanted to do for years.

Here’s a look at some of the issues:

THE LETTER

 U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, sent a letter co-signed by seven of his colleagues from the four states to House leaders urging a quick floor vote on a bill to return their wolves to state management. A key component of both is language that would prevent the courts from intervening.

The representatives said it’s urgent because calving season is when cows and calves are most vulnerable.

“As you know, cows and their calves can easily be worth several thousand dollars, so each instance of a wolf attack has devastating economic impacts on ranchers and their families. Currently, ranchers and farmers have no legal actions available to deal with gray wolf attacks because these predators are federally protected,” they wrote.

Peterson said in an interview that they very nearly passed a similar provision in the last Congress and that he thinks they have a decent shot at persuading Ryan to grant an early floor vote. Otherwise they’ll try to attach the language to a bigger appropriations bill later. The legislation is similar to what Congress used to delist wolves in Montana and Idaho in 2011 after courts blocked the federal government’s attempts to lift protections in those states.

“Wolves are not endangered,” Peterson said.

THE HEARING

The Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works held an informational hearing Feb. 15 billed as “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act.” Jim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, complained that it’s been illegal for farmers in the region to kill wolves that prey on their livestock since wolves went back on the list.

“As wolf populations continue to increase, interactions between farmers, their livestock, rural residents and wolves continue to escalate without a remedy in sight,” Holte testified.

THE COURTS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has long contended that wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming have recovered to the point where they’re no longer threatened, so hunting and trapping can be allowed under state control.

Gray wolves were once hunted to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, but they recovered under Endangered Species Act protections and reintroduction programs to the point where they now number around 5,500, according to the service. The combined gray wolf population of the three western Great Lakes states is now about 4,000, while Wyoming has roughly 400. The agency describes wolf numbers in those states as “robust, stable and self-sustaining.”

But federal courts have blocked multiple attempts to take them off the endangered list, most recently in 2014. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last fall heard oral arguments in challenges to those rulings but hasn’t ruled on them yet.

THE OPPOSITION

Groups that support the federal protections say it’s premature to lift them because wolves are still missing from most of their historical range. They’ve been able to persuade the courts that the terms of the Endangered Species Act requires recovery in more than just a few states, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service disagreed.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said he’s skeptical that the latest congressional efforts will get much traction. He said Peterson and the other representatives who sent the letter are just sending a message to their constituents that they’re still trying.

Study: Human toll on gray wolves higher than estimated in Wisconsin

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/02/06/study-human-toll-gray-wolves/97579676/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

USA TODAY NETWORKLee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel11:41 p.m. ET Feb. 6, 2017

MILWAUKEE — A University of Wisconsin-Madisonstudy shows the human toll on wolves is higher than previously estimated and that state officials have underreported wolf deaths in past analyses.

For years, wolves have been shot illegally, struck by cars and trucks or legally killed by authorities acting on reports that wolves were killing and threatening livestock and pets.

But in a study published Monday in the Journal of Mammalogy, UW researcher Adrian Treves and a group of scientists found higher levels of illegal killing of wolves in Wisconsin than reported by the Department of Natural Resources.

As part of the study, the researchers reinvestigated fatalities of a subset of wolves and found “abundant evidence” of gunshot wounds and injuries from trapping that may have been overlooked as a factor in their deaths, the authors said.

The study is likely to be controversial. As wolves have recolonized and their population has grown to an official count of nearly 900, the debate over their impact has only intensified.

Treves, for example, has been a critic of the design of the state’s hunting and trapping season for wolves and its potential to damage a healthy wolf population over the long term.

In an open letter in November 2015, Treves was one of more than 70 scientists and wolf experts who said studies show citizens are more tolerant of wolves than commonly assumed. The scientists questioned whether wolves can sustain their populations under state hunting and trapping seasons.

Adrian Wydeven, a retired DNR wolf ecologist, who read an advance copy of the study, disagreed with aspects of the research, including Treves’ interpretation of DNR data.

The study “seems to suggest … intent by (the DNR) to under-report (poaching) when it really just represents use of different models or agency reporting raw data,” Wydeven said in an email to several wolf experts that was shared with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“We always tried to report exactly what we found in the field,” Wydeven said in an interview.

Wydeven retired from the DNR in 2015 and is coordinator of the Timberwolf Alliance at Northland College in Ashland.

In a statement, DNR spokesman Jim Dick said: “While the (DNR) data collected is useful in determining wolves killed, that’s not its intended purpose. The data collected is meant to determine population and such things as pack territories. Wolf mortality numbers are based on actual dead animals detected.”

Treves said he and his fellow researchers examined the DNR’s methodology and are not claiming that officials are purposefully underestimating wolf deaths.

In the paper, the researchers say that failing to accurately account for wolf deaths, especially in future hunting and trapping seasons, is “risky.” Also, if officials continue to underreport poaching, it “will risk unsustainable mortality and raise the probability of a population crash,” they write.

“My argument is that scientifically you have to put your best foot forward,” said Treves, founder of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab at UW-Madison. “And when the DNR didn’t, they were doing it with an illegal activity (poaching).”

The UW study investigated the deaths of 937 gray wolves from October 1979 to April 2012 — a period that ends before Wisconsin initiated hunting seasons for wolves. Of the 937 wolves that died and whose deaths were investigated, 431 wore radio collars.

The UW researchers said that their analysis showed that the death of radio-collared wolves attributed to human causes was 64%. But the DNR calculated 55% and said an additional 18% of deaths were due to unknown causes, according to a DNR report in 2012.

Said Treves: “That’s a big number. We dug deeper and maybe it’s poaching.”

The researchers re-examined government records of necropsies and X-rays and found in some instances that gunshot wounds were a factor in the cause of death when other causes were cited.

The analysis also showed 52 wolves, or 20% of 256 animals that were X-rayed, revealed evidence of gunshots that did not kill the wolves. These cases were not added to researchers’ own estimates of higher poaching.

But the study said that figure lends credibility to the researchers’ claim that more wolves have been subject to poaching than the DNR reported.

Julie Langenberg, one of the authors of the study and a former DNR veterinarian, re-examined wolf death records.

She found evidence of gunshots that in the initial analysis were either mentioned briefly or not identified. Sometimes it was her own work.

“You are not looking at alternative facts,” Langenberg said of her review of wolf mortality in the study. “You are looking at the same facts, but because you are asking different questions, you are doing a different kind of assessment.”

She said the DNR’s job was to simply determine the cause of death.

Wisconsin officials reported that 528 wolves were killed during the state’s wolf hunting seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

During 2013, 257 wolves were killed — nearly half of all wolves harvested during the three years. Then  the wolf population dropped 18% from 809 in 2013 to 660 in 2014.

The hunts were halted in December 2014 by a federal judge who said Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan were violating the Endangered Species Act. This year, Congress, including Republicans and Democrats from Wisconsin, introduced a bill to replace federal protections with state management.

copyrighted wolf in water