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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Tiffany Should Trust Science: Ticks More Costly than Wolves

Updated: Feb 26

   A tick bite last summer confined Al Hofacker to a Green Bay hospital for over two months, spoiled his hunting seasons once home, and generated over $225,000 in medical bills.

  The co-founder and founding editor of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine likely contracted babesiosis from a tick bite in July 2023 near his home in rural Athelstane, but his doctors’ diagnosis wasn’t 100% certain. Hofacker’s battle with microscopic parasites grew so grave one night that doctors summoned loved ones, fearing he’d die before dawn. But Hofacker awoke the next day, and a nurse assured him he was alive, and not having an out-of-body experience.

   His sense of humor also survived. “When it’s my time to go, I’d rather get killed by a wolf than a tick-borne disease,” Hofacker told me last week. “I wouldn’t suffer so much, and I’d be famous for being the first person in Wisconsin killed by a wolf.”

   Hofacker, a former Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegate who now serves on Marinette County’s deer advisory council, said the tick-borne parasites caused severe liver problems, rapidly fluctuating blood pressure and pulse rates, and nearly complete kidney failure, which required five dialysis treatments. He’s doing better now and regained the 32 pounds he didn’t need to lose, but doesn’t know what his final bill will be or how much he’ll owe.

   Hofacker laughed, however, when told those tick-inflicted medical bills would rank third all-time in Wisconsin if they had been caused by a wolf. “Don’t laugh,” I told him during our phone visit. “Wisconsin has been paying people for wolf damage since 1985. The state paid $336,130 in wolf-depredation claims in 2011 and $244,066 in 2020, but your $225,000 tick bill is way ahead of the $200,505 in wolf claims paid statewide in 2015.”

   Hofacker’s case isn’t the norm, but neither is it rare. So, let’s do some math on annual tick-borne “damages” to Wisconsin borne by individual patients, Medicare, Badger Care and insurance companies.

   During 2022, the state recorded 91 babesiosis cases, as well as 17 cases of ehrlichiosis, 53 cases of Powassan virus, 511 cases of anaplasmosis, and 5,327 cases of Lyme disease. A 2016 study by the National Library of Medicine estimated each Lyme disease case costs society about $2,000 and each patient $1,200.

   That’s 6,044 diagnosed tick-borne diseases at $2K each for Wisconsin, totaling an estimated $12.1 million in medical costs for 2022. In contrast, the state paid $3.4 million for wolf-related damage the past 38 years.

   Meanwhile, politicians like U.S. Congressman Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst spent this winter rabblerousing about wolves from northern Minnesota to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. To his credit, Tiffany notes the Great Lakes states—not the federal government—should be managing their wolves, and that scientific evidence has justified removing wolves from the federal Endangered Species List since the late 1990s.

   In fact, every presidential administration from Clinton through Trump tried delisting our wolves. But federal courts—not state or federal agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—overturned the Obama Administration’s delisting decision that let Wisconsin hold wolf hunting/trapping seasons from 2012 to 2014. Another federal court overturned the Trump administration’s wolf delisting of January 2021.

   If Tiffany and other lawmakers weren’t so busy pandering to voters, they’d calmly note that wolves cause less damage in their districts each year than do deer. Tiffany should also note that bears, elk and turkeys combined in 2022 to inflict more damage than did wolves in the 26 Northwoods counties he represents, in whole or in part.

   According to the DNR’s 2022 report on wildlife damage claims and abatements, Tiffany’s constituents endured much of Wisconsin’s losses of crops, orchards, beehives, seedlings, nursery stock and livestock to bears, deer, turkeys, geese and elk. Agricultural damage in Tiffany’s 26 counties in 2022 was …

   -- $40,372.50 from turkeys, 98.5% of the statewide $40,990 total.

   -- $65,131 from elk, 100% of the statewide total.

   -- $137,535 from black bears, 92.5% of the statewide $148,744 total.

   -- $270,951 from white-tailed deer, 25.6% of the statewide $1.06 million total.

   For comparison, wolves caused $171,386 in damage in 2023, $100,130 in 2022, and $177,000 on average from 2019 through 2023 across their range in Wisconsin's northern and central forests.

   Of course, when wolves cause damage, things get personal. After all, we’re talking bloody deaths, ugly scars and veterinary bills from predation on pets, goats, calves, cattle, horses, llamas, turkeys, chickens, hunting hounds, captive deer and the occasional pig.

   Rather than deal with those issues frankly, Tiffany parrots bogus talking points. For instance, he claims the Northwoods must hold far more wolves than the DNR estimates (1,007 in January 2023). Why does Tiffany think DNR estimates are low? Because how else could hunters kill 218 wolves in only three days during Wisconsin’s February 2021 wolf season?

   Hmm. How, then, does Tiffany explain that we needed 69 days to take 257 wolves during the 2013 season, 60 days to take 117 wolves in 2012, and 52 days to take 154 wolves in 2014?

   Clearly, the February 2021 season was an outlier; a plan crafted by amateurs, not the DNR’s wolf experts. That plan was hatched in 36 minutes by barstool biologists at a hastily arranged Natural Resources Board meeting, led by archery-store merchant Greg Kazmierski, the NRB’s chief pseudoscience mixologist.

   Kazmierski’s plan sold 13 kill permits for each wolf in the quota, rather than an average 7.6 permits per quota-wolf the first three seasons; and it allowed hound hunting from the start. The February 2021 season opened with perfect snow and tracking conditions, caravans of trucks and ATVs, and good access roads throughout the Northwoods. Unlike the first three years, where trappers slowly took 69% of the harvest before hound-hunting began after deer season, hound-hunters quickly took 86% of the 2021 harvest before the DNR closed the season.

   Make no mistake: We should support Tiffany’s efforts to delist wolves with his H.R. 764 “Trust the Science Act.” But Tiffany should also explain why we should embrace that bill, but ignore the science that shows Wisconsin’s wolf population leveling off, not increasing, in recent years.

   And when Tiffany chuckles at snarky suggestions for the DNR to truck wolves to southern Wisconsin to tackle CWD and increase intimacy with wolf-huggers, he should note it’s an expensive, wasteful idea. Wolves repopulated the forests of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula the past 40 years on their own by trotting over from northeastern Minnesota.

   Wolves regularly took similar hikes to southern Wisconsin and Minnesota the past four decades, but never stayed to form packs. That’s evidence wolves can't find suitable habitat in farm-country woodlots.

   Yes, trust the science, Congressman Tom. It shows Wisconsin can manage its wolves, and that your 7th congressional district suffers more from ticks than from wolves.

Wolves have caused $3.4 million in damage across northern and central Wisconsin forests since 1985, while tick-borne illnesses caused over $12.1 million in medical bills in 2022 alone. — Nick Perdiew photo

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