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January 27, 2012

News

Research data to help manage wolves

Several research techniques, including capturing and placing a telemetry collar on a wolf, will help Fort McCoy Natural Resource Branch (NRB) personnel better manage the mammals at the installation.

Tim Wilder, Fort McCoy Endangered Species biologist, said a 64-pound female wolf was caught inadvertently on South Post in a coyote trap in December. Members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Service came to Fort McCoy to place a telemetry collar on the wolf before it was released.
PHOTO: DeWayne Snobl of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service checks on a wolf’s condition after it was tranquilized. Photo by Nathan Tucker
DeWayne Snobl of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service checks on a wolf’s condition after it was tranquilized. The wolf was caught inadvertently in a coyote trap and was fitted with a telemetry collar before being released. (Photo by Nathan Tucker)

“We have wolf packs on both North and South Post,” Wilder said. “Tracking wolves using radio telemetry helps give us a better idea of the wolves’ range and how they are using the habitat within their territory.”

Wolf packs are comprised of an alpha male and female that serve as the breeding pair.

Other pack members generally include recently-born pups and yearling wolves that help care for the pups and secure food.
“Yearling wolves often will leave their natal pack in order to find a mate,” Wilder said. This is why wolves in Wisconsin continue to expand their range.

NRB personnel have established several bait stations on the installation. Road-killed deer carcasses are used to attract wolves to the bait sites.

Trail cameras are used to obtain photos of the wolves. These photos help determine a population estimate and can provide an overall assessment of wolf health. In addition, in coordination with the USDA, snares will be set near the bait stations in order to capture and place telemetry collars on additional wolves.

PHOTO: A wolf fitted with a telemetry collar is released on South Post at Fort McCoy. Photo by Nathan Tucker
A wolf fitted with a telemetry collar is released on South Post at Fort McCoy. Installation Natural Resource Branch personnel will use the collar to track the wolf’s movements. (Photo by Nathan Tucker)

Deer are one of the key food sources for wolves, and Fort McCoy has a sufficient population to support the wolves on post, said David Beckmann, Fort McCoy wildlife biologist.

“We also use snow tracking to keep track of the wolf population,” Wilder said. “Their tracks let us know how many there are, help define territory boundaries, and let us see how they travel throughout their territory.”

Data available from this method has been limited this winter due to the lack of snow cover before Jan. 12, Wilder said.

Locating wolf dens also is important. Wilder said dens generally are in remote locations where wolves won’t come in contact with humans. Knowing where these locations are allows the installation to reduce activity that conflicts with the wolves if necessary.

All of the data will be useful to help the installation manage wolves when they are removed from the federal endangered species list Jan. 27. The management will shift back to the states, with the WDNR in charge in Wisconsin, he said.

“We’re hoping to continue our excellent working relationship with the WDNR,” Wilder said. “They locate collared wolves utilizing aircraft and share the data with us. We have been able to provide them with wolf locations using a receiver and truck-mounted antennae, which helps them get more-complete information.”

Wilder said the installation recently completed its five-year management plan in 2011 to set a course for managing the wolf population at Fort McCoy. With the federal delisting of wolves, problem wolves now can be dealt with at the state level. For example, if a farmer is experiencing livestock loss from wolves, USDA employees will be allowed to trap and euthanize these animals.

“To date it is not believed that the wolves residing on Fort McCoy have killed any livestock on surrounding farms,” Wilder said.

It is likely that in the future the WDNR will allow a regulated public harvest of wolves through hunting and/or trapping, Wilder said.

“If this occurs, we will consider allowing these management actions to occur on the installation,” Wilder said.

Hunting or trapping seasons will help instill and maintain a fear of humans within the wolf population. Since wolves are a large and powerful predator, problems can arise if they become habituated to humans.

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