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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Time to Test NRB Nominees and Senators’ Wolf Knowledge

Who would have thought demonizing wolves is so vital to Wisconsin that state senators would torpedo the Natural Resources Board just so it can’t vote on a wolf-management plan that differs little from the state’s plan for managing black bears?


In case you missed it, the Senate’s Committee on Financial Institutions and Sporting Heritage voted 3-2 Sept. 28 to reject four of Gov. Tony Evers’ five NRB nominees. If the full Senate rejects those nominees before the NRB’s Oct. 25 meeting, it would leave three Board members — Chairman Bill Smith, Vice chair Marcy West and Paul Buhr — and cancel the meeting for lack of a quorum.


Of course, Evers could name four new nominees before the gavel drops Oct. 25, and they would serve till the Senate expels them, too.


Shudder.


Please, capitol dwellers: Grow up soon.


Buhr was the lone Evers nominee the Senate committee deemed capable of NRB service. One committee member — Sen. Cory Tomczak, R-Mosinee — said only Buhr understood “the devastation that wolves have done to people of the 29th district.”


Tomczak represents much of Sawyer, Rusk, Taylor and Marathon counties. He and fellow Northwoods senators Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, and Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, rejected Evers nominees Sandra Dee Naas, Jim VandenBrook, Dylan Jennings and Sharon Adams with scant explanation, and no one testified against them at their confirmation hearings.


In a prepared statement, Felzkowski said she voted for the only “Evers appointee who … will help bridge the gap at the NRB between Northwoods values and those of the governor.”


Those “values” are apparently at risk because the NRB is scheduled to vote Oct. 25 on the Department of Natural Resources’ latest wolf-management plan, which seeks to hold wolves at current levels, roughly 800 to 1,200. The plan divides the state into six management zones and four subzones to better regulate wolf numbers through focused hunting and trapping, and minimize predation on pets and livestock.


The plan doesn’t cap wolf numbers, a litmus test for opponents, but neither does the state’s 2019-2029 management plan for black bears — a larger and more numerous predator. Wisconsin’s bear population exceeded 24,000 in July, but the statewide goal was 11,300 bruins until the plan’s update four years ago.


Critics keep demanding a 350-wolf maximum, which they claim was the cap in the DNR’s 1997-2007 plan. But that plan’s text isn’t that specific. On Page 6 it recommended “a management goal of 350 wolves outside of Native American reservations,” while noting, “At this level ‘proactive depredation control can be authorized.’” On Page 7, the plan also predicted 300 to 500 wolves could occupy Wisconsin’s best wolf habitat, but more marginal habitats could push the population to 500 to 800.


Rather than a cap, the new plan seeks a “healthy and sustainable wolf population that fulfills its ecological role while addressing and reducing wolf-related conflicts.”


Those objectives resemble plans in Minnesota and Michigan, which hold the rest of the Great Lakes region’s wolves. Minnesota estimates it has 2,200 to 3,000 wolves, and Michigan estimates its Upper Peninsula holds 625 to 770 wolves. Neither plan specifies a wolf-population cap or goal.


Meanwhile, the NRB’s duties go beyond wolves, and our forebears sought to remove petty politics from NRB work. Since lawmakers created the seven-citizen Board in 1967 to set DNR policy, our full Senate has rejected only one governor-nominated NRB member. In November 1999, Gov. Tommy Thompson tried wedging Francis “Bill” Murphy onto the Board, despite Murphy’s documented insults to women, Native Americans and anyone who challenged his chairmanship of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a 360-member citizens group that advises the NRB.


Therefore, the Senate has OK’d 60 of the governors’ 61 nominees the past six-plus decades. Whether donkeys or elephants, these nominees filled staggered terms at the pleasure of 10 governors — five Democrats, five Republicans — from Warren Knowles through Evers.


And yet Stafsholt, Tomczak and Felzkowski think Evers’s victories in the 2018 and 2022 governor elections don’t earn him the same peaceful transfer of power. Do they really think the nominees’ views on wolves pose existential threats to the Northwoods?


Sigh.


Take a breath, folks. The plan hasn’t even been approved, and the NRB could modify it. Plus, wolves still can’t be trapped or hunted until the U.S. Congress or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removes them from the federal Endangered Species List.


But after removing Rocky Mountain wolves from the ESL in 2011, the House has failed repeatedly to delist Great Lakes’ wolves even though their numbers have exceeded delisting goals for two decades. The current delisting bill, which would also prevent further court challenges, isn’t going anywhere, either. Congress is in turmoil, and no Democrat will co-sponsor the bill, possibly because its author is Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado.


Yes, that Lauren Boebert; the goofy 36-year-old grandmother who vapes and misbehaves in theaters while dressed like a teenager who sneaked out while her parents watched “Friends” reruns.


Besides, whether Wisconsin’s wolf cap is 350, 1,200 or infinity, folks will doubt all DNR estimates, armed as we are with iPhone calculators and rudimentary math skills.


Perhaps we should decide matters with a “Family Feud” wolf-trivia contest pitting Stafsholt, Tomczak and Felzkowski against Naas, Jennings and VandenBrook, with Adams in reserve.


Question 1: Rank bears, bobcats, coyotes, wolves and two-legged hunters by the deer they killed in the Northwoods during 2020.


Answer: Humans killed about 54,000 Northwoods deer that year; followed by coyotes, 36,000; bears, 27,000; bobcats, 22,800; and wolves, 18,000. In other words, wolves claimed 11.4% of that deer kill.


Question 2: Rank deer, elk, bears, turkeys, geese and wolves for their percentage of the appraised $1.5-plus million in agricultural property damage inflicted in Wisconsin in 2022.


Answer: Deer caused 71% of those damages, followed by bears, 10%; geese, 8%; elk, 4%; wolves, 4%; and turkeys, 3%.


Question 3: Which large predator caused the most nuisance complaints in Wisconsin during 2022?


Answer: The DNR handled 872 complaints involving black bears last year, and it trapped and relocated 109 of them. The agency handled three “human safety/nuisance” complaints involving wolves.


Question 4: Which animal kills more North Americans, wolves or black bears?


Answer: Since 1900, wolves have killed four people and black bears, 79. Two of the wolves were rabid.


Question 5: What percentage of Wisconsinites living in wolf range reported a firsthand experience of wolves harassing or killing a domestic animal?


Answer: 5% experienced a harassment, and 4% experienced a killing.


Question 6: What do Wisconsinites in wolf range want for wolf numbers?


Answer: A DNR sociological study in 2022 found more Northwoods support for wolves than in its 2014 study: 33% of wolf-range residents wanted the same wolf numbers as recent years, 27% wanted fewer or many fewer, and 22% wanted more or many more.


Given Sen. Tomczak’s claims of wanton wolf devastation across his district, we can assume he and his colleagues would get trounced on fact-based versions of “Family Feud.”

A DNR plan for managing gray wolves is drawing opposition that could threaten the future of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board. — Snapshot Wisconsin photo

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