Tim Van Deelen, Associate Professor
Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
9:47 – Total Time
0:20 – What’s a successful deer hunt
1:16 – Experience determines success
2:07 – How wolf and deer hunts are tied together
4:05 – Summing up the wolf hunt
5:06 – Influence of the new wold hunt
5:07 – What’s sustainable
7:47 – Why hunt wolves
9:35 – Lead out
Wrapping up the Wisconsin gun deer season and the new wolf hunt season. We’re visiting today with Tim Van Deelen, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI and I’m Sevie Kenyon.
Sevie Kenyon: Tim, can you give us a sense of what makes a successful hunt for this state?
Tim Van Deelen: We tend to have successful hunts when the weather is good and that means either warm weather or snow on the ground that’s available for tracking and when the corn is down in the fields, because corn is something of a refuge for deer. It’s [corn] very difficult to hunt in but it does hold deer that would otherwise be seen walking around in the woods. Because our opening day is tied to Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving moves up and back on the calendar, our opening day moves closer and farther away from the peak of the rut. Which means that when we have a relatively early opening day for the gun season, we’re still picking up some of that late rutting activity which means the bucks are more active therefore more visible and hunters are more successful.
Sevie Kenyon: Tim, in terms of numbers, what does the state need for a successful hunt?
Tim Van Deelen: Success of the hunt seems to be driven by the hunter perception of success and they tend to look at how we’ve done in the past, relative to past years, but also they look at how they’ve done personally and the people that they know who are also hunting. So, if the word kind of gets out locally that it was a poor hunt, that they weren’t seeing the deer, you get kind of a confirmation bias. If everyone seems to be shooting deer and you’re seeing deer at the check stations and everybody seems to be successful then the confirmation bias works in the other direction and sort of snowballs. So, I don’t know that it really is about numbers but it’s about comparing your experience to what some of the statewide records are.
Sevie Kenyon: Tim, we have something new this season with the wolf hunt. How is the deer and the wolf hunt tied together?
Tim Van Deelen: Wolf, of course, are predators and their primary prey in Wisconsin is whitetail deer so it’s completely intuitive to believe that if you’ve got an increasing wolf population then they’re having some impact on the deer population. I tend to think it’s more complicated than that but, at least, at the intuitive level that’s a story that’s been told in hunting and wildlife circles, you know, forty or fifty years. So, more wolves, especially when you had some recent seasons that were disappointing, 2008 for instance, hunters put two and two together, if you will, and they begin thinking about the fact that maybe having wolves on the landscape are causing the deer population to be depressed. Now, in the north, it’s almost conventional wisdom now that wolves are depressing the deer population and certainly at a local scale there are hunters whose hunting has probably deteriorated because they just happen to be unlucky enough to hunt in an area where wolves are very active. But there’s a bit of a disconnect; we’re not seeing those impacts filter up to the larger, say, deer management level, harvest statistics. So, deer hunters are experiencing something that’s real but being able to tie that to a decline in deer numbers is a little more difficult. Another theory might suggest that it’s a change in the deer behavior. Wolves are coursing predators, which means they chase their prey around the landscape, and they’re doing this 24/7 so there’s an ecological theory out there that suggests that having the large predator back in the ecosystem changes the behavior of the prey, makes them more wary and less visible. So what the hunters are experiencing, what they’re perceiving as fewer deer out there, is the fact that you’ve got deer that are more wary and less visible.
Sevie Kenyon: Tim, can you perhaps typify the first wolf hunt in many years?
Tim Van Deelen: It’s hard to say. I think it’s been more successful than the managers have recognized. Of course, we’ve had a lawsuit, which said that hunters are not able to use hounds to chase the wolves and the claim was that they really needed hounds to be able to harvest wolves. Well, we’re sitting here about a week after Thanksgiving and we’re almost at 100 wolves harvested, give or take, something like that, which suggests that you really don’t need the hounds to be able to harvest wolves. I think it turns out that the trappers have been more successful in harvesting wolves. I think that’s to be expected. We had a bit of a pulse of wolves being harvested during the deer hunting gun season. I think that’s also to be expected. It turns out, I think, that harvesting wolves is easier than what we expected.
Sevie Kenyon: What do you feel will be the influence of this hunt and hunts to come?
Tim Van Deelen: Well, this hunt, being the first one out of the box is important for kind of learning how the system behaves. How successful hunters can be is really important information for designing a quota system, you know, how many permits do you allow if you want to have a harvest of a certain size. So, we’re kind of just getting our feet wet with that. The harvest was fairly modest, I don’t expect it to have a huge impact on the wolf population but we also don’t know, kind of down the road, what the long term management goals or management priorities are going to be. I think that’s still developing. You know, one of the things that is being advocating, in different circles, is an update to the wolf management plan, which is long overdue now. In terms of just looking at the hunt this year and the quota they established, it doesn’t put the wolf population in any real jeopardy.
Sevie Kenyon: What’s your idea of a sustainable wolf hunt?
Tim Van Deelen: Well, you can have a sustainable wolf hunt at almost infinite number of levels if you define sustainability as the wolf population remaining the same size from year to year. The problem really is what do you expect from your wolf population? What do you want it to be? Do you want it to be just a relic population, like a museum piece, or do you really want wolves to have some sort of role in those northern ecosystems? In my mind, that’s kind of the key question that we haven’t answered yet. The Wisconsin legislature mandated a wolf hunt, which is really unusual. Typically, designing a hunt and regulating a hunt is done under the rule making authority of the Department of Natural Resources. So you’ve this law, really, that doesn’t give the managers a whole lot of flexibility but it also doesn’t tell them long-term what the goal is here other than to have a hunt, presumably to reduce the wolf population to some level. You know, if we get the wolf population down to some very low level then the sustainable harvest also gets down relatively low but then we’ve got wolves back on the landscape that are in more of a danger of getting to a level of where they might be threatened again and having less of a role in the ecosystems. So, in my mind, that’s the discussion that we really need to have now among hunters, conservationists, other stakeholders who care about wolves.
Sevie Kenyon: Tim, why would people want to hunt wolves?
Tim Van Deelen: I think the motivation to hunt wolves is mostly about obtaining a trophy. Folks want the experience; they maybe want the skin on the wall or the skull to display on the mantle piece. I don’t think anybody’s out there eating wolf meat, somebody may try it. I also don’t think that the motivation is primarily for people who just are so angry about wolves back on the landscape they want to do their part by taking the one that they can get as a result of applying for and getting this permit. So, I think it’s mostly motivated by the experience, by the trophy value of a big wolf pelt. You know, the reality is that having wolves and deer tied together as two, kind of, iconic species that everybody in Wisconsin cares about complicates the management of both of them. You know, so for instance, hunters are experiencing something when wolves move in but that experience that they see at the local level, by and large, doesn’t translate into larger level patterns, which puts the managers in a bit of a dilemma. It’s like the arguments that we get into over deer numbers. Hunters experience changes on the 40 acres that they are intimately familiar with and you can’t ever argue that they’re wrong, or they’re lying, or they don’t know what’s going on because they honestly do but that doesn’t filter up very well, in many cases, to the patterns that you see at the level of a deer management unit, which is the lens, if you will, that the managers have to view things through. So, we get into that controversy with deer numbers and I think we’re going to get into that controversy with wolf numbers as well.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting today with Tim Van Deelen, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison, WI and I’m Sevie Kenyon.