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Sheep producer is angry 'the wolves win'

By ROBERT IMRIE, Capital Press 10/5/08

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) -- A northern Wisconsin farmer who has watched a growing pack of wolves harass his sheep and kill one can't believe the animals are back on the federal endangered species list.

"All it means is the wolves win," said Merrill Rosenwinkel of Herbster, in far northern Bayfield County. "It is discouraging is what it is. It would be nice if we could go back to when there weren't any wolves here."

Last week, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C., overturned the Bush administration's decision to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered list. He sided with environmental groups that accused the government of misreading the law last year when it lifted federal protections for about 4,000 wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The ruling means the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources now can no longer manage wolves like it wants - basically allowing the killing of the problem ones that go after livestock, pets and even bear hunting dogs.

"I am very much disappointed," said Adrian Wydeven, the agency's wolf expert. "This really reduces our flexibility. It creates a lot more problems trying to manage our population. I think we lose public support to some extent because people were more willing to accept wolves when we could rapidly go out and have the problem animals removed."

Before last week's ruling, 45 problem wolves were killed in Wisconsin this year, mostly by government agents who trapped them near farms where they were causing problems, Wydeven said.

No more wolves will be killed until the state can acquire a special federal permit, a process expected to take months, he said. "This permit will be very restrictive, under specific conditions, likely leading to fewer wolves removed."

The only legal way to kill a wolf right now is if one was attacking a human being, he said.

The state issued 38 shooting permits for landowners in eight counties to kill problem wolves this year, he said. Eight permits were still active when the judge made his ruling and they were immediately revoked. The permits allowed the landowners to shoot any wolf coming onto their property.

Rosenwinkel had one of them.

So did Taylor County cattleman Jim Tlusty of Westboro.

"I am basically really discouraged with it," Tlusty said about strict protections being put back on wolves. "It is hard enough to make a living let alone feeding the wildlife. It is just disgusting. That ruling is completely foolish."

In the past five years, wolves have killed five cattle in his herd, he said. "We got plenty of wolves."

Decades of bounty hunting wiped out wolves in Wisconsin by the late 1950s, but they migrated back from Minnesota after being placed on the federal endangered species list in the 1970s. Between 600 and 700 now live in northern and central Wisconsin, roaming in 138 packs, Wydeven said.

Some critics believe the population estimate is far too conservative. There could be 1,200 wolves, they say.

Anna Cellar, coordinator of the Timber Wolf Alliance in Manitowish Waters, said people do not have to fear that too many wolves will suddenly risk harm to humans.

"Every creature, every species is going to reach its own biological carrying capacity, so it is not going to be a situation where the wolves are going to completely overpopulate to the point of being dangerous to people," she said.

There are few documented cases of healthy wolves attacking people, she said.

In March 2007, federal officials removed the gray wolf from endangered lists in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, handing over management to state and tribal governments, completing the so-called "delisting" effort first announced by the U.S. Interior Department in 1998.

The Humane Society of the United States and several other groups sued, claiming the government had acted illegally and more caution was needed before the wolf protections were lifted.

With the judge's ruling, problem wolves in Wisconsin now can only be trapped and relocated, leaving farmers and ranchers with just nonlethal means, such as noisemakers, to scare them away.

"We are close to 30 farms that have depredation problems this year," Wydeven said. "Five years ago, it was five or six farms."

He knows the more restrictive controls will cause more landowner frustration. And he fears one backlash could be more illegal killing of wolves.

In 2006, the DNR documented 17 illegal killings, Wydeven said. In 2007, when the animal was off the endangered species list, that figure dropped to 11 - and included six incidents in which people turned themselves in after they shot a wolf after mistaking one for a coyote in areas of the state where wolves normally would be expected to run, he said.

Rosenwinkel, who started farming in 1976 when there were no wolves around and wildlife never caused a problem, answered Wydeven's fear by asking another question.

"If you have a poodle outside your house and a wolf comes up and is going to kill him, what are you going to do? Are you going to stand there and watch? Or if the gun is in the closet are going to get it and shoot?" the farmer asked. "They weren't here when I bought the place. They moved in. I kind of feel like I have a few more rights than they do."

Tlusty, the 70-year-old cattleman, said people are getting so aggravated by environmentalists who "just like to see all this game" that maybe hunters should just quit buying hunting licenses.

"We are not even going to go, just let the country get overrun with this foolishness," he said.

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