Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Decemeber issue cover. Photo: Matt McKay, DNR Hayward Office

Our December issue.
Photo: Matt McKay, DNR Hayward Office

June 2011

Readers Write

Want to comment on a story? Email Readers Write and include the name of the community from which you are writing.

Wolf Control Necessary for Elk Herd Success

A herd in the balance (December 2010) contains more depressing news concerning the future of elk than it does words of joy. Steps taken to minimize traffic fatalities are truly commendable and need be continued, but failure to deal realistically with the wolf problem (yes, PROBLEM) will render useless all other efforts to build up our elk herd. Pennsylvania, Lower Michigan and Kentucky have enjoyed tremendous success in re-establishing their elk herds – they have no wolves with which to contend, and all have had regulated elk hunting. Wisconsin could achieve that end if proper managerial steps are taken.

I strongly recommend that wolf population control measures be implemented at the earliest possible date; failure to do so will keep our elk herd at a meager level forever, or until the wolves eliminate the elk completely. Moving the elk away from the wolves, as the article describes, will be a futile and costly measure, destined to solve nothing, because the wolves will find them. A limited, controlled shooting of wolves, to pare down the pack, would be far more effective. Wolves are intelligent creatures and they would soon learn where life is dangerous. Those surviving would take up life in areas where they do not get shot, and our elk would have a far better chance for survival.

R. Claude Corbeille, life member
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundtion

We asked DNR's wolf expert, Adrian Wydeven, and head elk biologist, Laine Stowell, to respond to Mr. Corbeille's letter.

Adrian Wydeven says, "Elk herds in Michigan and Pennsylvania took a while to take off as well. In Kentucky many more elk were reintroduced and were released into areas with extensive reclaimed mine sites which have been converted to grasslands. Elk were released into the Clam Lake area with wolves on the landscape, and although the elk population growth has slowed some at times, the herd has grown with the presence of wolves, and there is no indication they would eliminate the elk. When elk were experimentally introduced into Clam Lake in 1995, it was understood that for elk to succeed, they would need to be able to adapt to the existing environment, which included the existing wolf population.

"Wolves continue to be listed as endangered species by the federal government, therefore there currently is no possibility to consider a hunting season. The federal government started a process to delist wolves this spring that may remove wolves from the federal list by the end of 2011. But it would still take time for a public harvest to be implemented. It is also not clear whether it would be appropriate or broadly accepted to remove wolves from large blocks of public land that are managed for a diversity of wildlife. This is not a herd of domestic cows; these are wild elk that are adapted to wild lands and dealing with predators."

Laine Stowell says, "Certainly Michigan, Pennsylvania and Kentucky have had great success with their elk herds and do have hunting seasons. These states also have not had wolves on the landscape for at least most of the time that they've had elk. However, it is not correct to assume that their success is solely due to the fact that wolves were not present for at least most of that history. Elk were released in Michigan in 1915 and in Pennsylvania in 1918. Both releases were at single sites. It took 50 years before Michigan had an elk hunting season and Pennsylvania didn't have an elk hunting season until 2001. A major factor limiting expansion of these herds was due to human predators (poachers) and the fact that the elk would not disperse on the landscape. Eastern habitats are lush and all seasonal habitat needs are close at hand. Elk are nonmigratory on eastern landscapes.

"On the other hand, in four years, starting in 1998, Kentucky brought in 1,549 elk and released them in eight different locations across a 16-county elk range. By 2009 Kentucky estimated they had 11,000 elk. In 1998 Pennsylvania did a similar project. In 1996 they only had 160 elk in a 285-square-mile elk range. They expanded that range to 825 square miles and in 1998, 1999 and 2000 they moved 69 of their elk to three different locations. By 2006 they had 700 elk.

"In Wisconsin, 25 elk were released at one site three miles south of Clam Lake. There were two to three wolf packs present in their vicinity. It took four years before one of those packs killed a calf elk and eight years before any of the then several packs within the elk range killed a two-year- old bull. Our wolves are primarily adapted and skilled at preying on deer and beaver. Not all wolf packs are created equal! There are 14 wolf packs within the Clam Lake elk range, six that adjoin or overlap elk occupied areas. Only two packs, the Ghost Lake and Torch River packs, have become expert elk predators, accounting for 90 percent of the 49 wolf-killed elk since 1995. Both the Torch River and the Ghost Lake packs share a boundary along Highway 77 and 85 percent of the elk are concentrated in this border area between these two wolf packs.

"Even if we could kill wolves, it would not promote elk dispersal. That's not our experience, nor the experience in Michigan, Pennsylvania or Kentucky. Expanding elk range is the primary purpose of the 'assisted dispersal' project, moving them away from the Ghost Lake and Torch River packs and State Highway 77 where most vehicle collisions occur. Certainly other wolf packs will learn and become expert elk predators, but if we continue to place elk in areas where packs haven't yet developed those skills and away from Highway 77, we hope to return annual elk growth closer to the 19 percent average annual growth we observed during the first eight years of elk, rather than the six percent annual increase we observed the last six years.

"For the record, from May to December of 2010 we only saw five verified elk deaths, only one due to wolves. In the same period in 2009 we had 20 deaths, with eight due to wolves. The elk herd at the end of January 2011 was estimated at 160 animals. The department continues to work hard to help Wisconsin elk grow."

Blue Jays Disappeared

We have had a family of blue jays regularly at our feeders along with cardinals, chickadees and other seed eaters. We only use sunflower seeds. All of a sudden the blue jays have disappeared! Actually, good riddance as they are pigs, but we love all of our birds. Has anybody else had the same problem?

Bill Sherry
Menomonee Falls

Andy Paulios, DNR's Bird Conservation Initiative coordinator, reports that it's very difficult to explain such localized events for which there could be several reasons. He would like to commend you, Bill, for being tuned in to the value of birds and engaged in their comings and goings. If you have access to the Internet, you might try searching online for information about blue jays and your other favorite birds. Start by typing "bird watching in Wisconsin" or "backyard birding" in the search engine and see what comes up. And keep up the good work!

Awesome Responsibility

Photo of turkey eggsMy son took this picture of a wild turkey nest of eggs which he observed while hunting last spring in Waushara County. He was on his way out of his hunting area when he observed a turkey hen flush out of a grassy area. He suspected she was on a nest and this is what he found. He quickly took a picture and left the area. After developing the picture it looks like at least 21 or 22 eggs and could be more. What an awesome responsibility that mother will have when they start to hatch. There are so many predators that prey on the young poults like fox, coyotes, raccoons, hawks, owls, snakes and more. Thanks for publishing a great and interesting magazine.

Bud Meyer
Wild Rose

Greenland Once Green?

Although most of your articles are interesting and informative, the article on preparing for the "absolutely happening" climate change (Managing our future: Getting ahead of a changing climate, February 2011) is lacking some interesting points to paint a complete picture. I like to use the example of Greenland to provide data on the perceived climate change seldom mentioned by media sources. The name Greenland was not chosen because of the current tundra landscape. Erik the Red, the father of Leif Eriksson, discovered Greenland in the mid-900s AD and named it as such due to the lush and fertile green valleys. By the year 1000 the population was about 3,000, living in 300-400 farms. This small community survived for hundreds of years. Around the year 1300 the earth started to experience a mini-ice age that eventually drove the farming profession from Greenland completely. Today there are a few farming opportunities returning to Greenland as a result of the never ending climate cycle.

Perceived man-made climate change has little absolute evidence. Yet Greenland's history is a documented fact that our earth's climate cycles from warm to cold in an eternal rhythm.

Russ Tinder

Night Sky is Resource to Treasure

My wife and I have always enjoyed your magazine. The February 2011 edition was extra special to me, for one reason. The cover story, The fading universe, by Kurt Sroka from Somerset was great. Thank you for helping inform everyone of this true issue and one that we can overcome. You see, I am an amateur astronomer and I agree wholeheartedly with every word in the article. The article covered every concern I have about losing one of our most beautiful resources. The article was written very well.

Wisconsin has many great natural resources to preserve, however, the night sky is one of them that the majority of its residents fail to include as being important. In fact, most of the people in this country, and the world, never even think of the night sky as a resource. There are people today who live in large cities who, on a good night, would be very lucky to see a couple dozen stars or planets. What a pity! If the people of our state, and the world, would just take the time to go to a dark sky site and look up, they would see exactly what I mean. It is absolutely stunning. You would never forget the sight and would long to see it many, many more times, I promise.

Most people are ignorant about the night sky and need to be educated about proper lighting. Contractors and subcontractors need to do a better job by informing people about better ways to light their homes and businesses. It is a shame to have to travel hundreds of miles to get to places where I can truly enjoy the night sky the way I remember it, as a kid, right here in our great, beautiful state of Wisconsin. Great article. Keep up the excellent journalism!

Duane Jacob

Motion Detectors Effective and Conserve Energy

Thanks for the fantastic, informative article on The fading universe. We bought 40 acres in the north woods 20 years ago. We used to love to go into the clearing with a telescope and view stars, planets, comets and other heavenly bodies. Unfortunately a few of our neighbors have installed those "on-all-night" mercury vapor lights. We see a fraction of what we saw before! This is such a violation! Many of us feel they should be banned. The other side wants "security" [offered by the lights] but an insurance agent friend states 70+ percent of rural homes broken into have one of these offensive lights! He also stated "motion detectors are far more effective" and are not wasting energy all night. Sadly, our children will not see the Milky Way and other heavenly bodies if we don't stop these offensive lights in rural areas.

Wayne Jensen

Magazine Staff Update

After producing this magazine for nearly 25 years, David L. Sperling has retired as editor of Wisconsin Natural Resources. The magazine will be edited and compiled by a team of Creative Products Manager Natasha Kassulke, Circulation Manager Karen Ecklund, and Staff Writer Kathryn Kahler, working with Art Director Thomas Senatori.

Photo Larry Sperling © DNR File Photo
Larry Sperling

"The magazine continues to be an inviting, enjoyable means to explore outdoor issues, bolster the value of getting outdoors and lay the foundation for discussions about emerging environmental issues," Sperling said. "We like introducing readers to the DNR people and our partners who improve properties; restore habitat; and nurture healthy animals, plants and landscape the public can enjoy. We're equally proud to introduce readers to a host of talented writers, photographers and illustrators who donate their works.

"Our contributors are generous people who care deeply about Wisconsin’s natural beauty. They want to take others along with them as they explore outdoor spaces, come eye to eye with wildlife, find spectacular scenery, and practice conservation. We are proud to share the vision and actions of so many who value the outdoors," Sperling said. "We're proud to introduce talented people to our readers and we’re proud to give readers a forum to share the outdoor experiences they enjoy.

"I'm equally grateful to the skilled, well-trained and generous DNR staff that makes time to share their stories and explain the evolving art of nurturing outdoor resources. Earth did not come with a set of instructions. Every day we have an opportunity to discover more and appreciate how nature works. We can choose to act in ways that sustain health and the natural systems that protect us."