Livestock risks from Wisconsin wolves localized, predictable

This is a rational look at wolf-livestock, pet conflicts-

By “rational,” I mean unemotional calculation of risk and costs/benefits of various actions.
Ralph Maughan
– – – –
University of Wisconsin news release
Livestock risks from Wisconsin wolves localized, predictable
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A map, generated by researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, predicts the risk of grey wolf attacks on livestock in parts of Wisconsin located within 100 kilometers of known wolf packs. The highest-risk regions, shown in red, comprise just 10 percent of the area within wolf ranges and are concentrated in northwestern parts of the state and near Lake Superior. Map credit: Adrian Treves, UW-Madison

It’s an issue that crops up wherever humans and big predators — wolves, bears, lions — coexist.

“It’s just hard to live alongside large carnivores. They damage crops, they kill livestock and pets, they threaten people’s safety,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Adrian Treves. And the sheer presence of a wolf nearby has typically been enough to make farmers fear for their animals, he adds. “Wherever there were carnivores, people thought there was risk.”

But Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs notwithstanding, not all wolves are big and bad. Even as Wisconsin’s wolf population grows, intensifying the potential for conflicts with people, Treves’ research is revealing that one of the most visible types of conflict — attacks on livestock — is highly localized and may be predictable.

Treves, head of the Carnivore Coexistence Laboratory in the UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, works in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to understand and mediate human-carnivore conflicts with an eye toward reducing the threat to both people and animals.

When problems arise, Treves says, “people traditionally respond by retaliating, either by clearing wildlife habitat or by killing the carnivores.”

It’s an approach that simply isn’t sustainable, he says, noting that top carnivores are linchpin species in many ecosystems and among the most endangered species on the planet. “How do you balance people’s need for safety and their livelihoods — livestock and crops — how do you balance that human need with the global imperative to conserve nature?”

Their research on the topic has now yielded a risk map of wolf attacks on livestock in Wisconsin, which identifies areas of high and low risk throughout the state. The study, co-authored with Adrian Wydeven and Jane Wiedenhoeft of the Wisconsin DNR and Kerry Martin of UW-Madison, appears in the June issue of the journal BioScience.

Risk mapping is already used in a wide range of settings, from police activity to outbreaks of infectious disease, as a way to mobilize and manage resources. It’s a very common-sense approach, Treves says, based on identifying characteristics that distinguish affected sites from neighboring unaffected sites.

“If we can isolate the factors that make them different, we should be able to predict where those attacks will happen in the future and we can target our prevention to the highest-risk areas,” he says.

Their analysis, using 133 documented livestock attacks between 1999 and 2006, highlighted three variables that predicted higher risk of wolf attacks: higher percentage of pasture, grassland or hayfield; closer proximity to the nearest wolf pack; and greater distance from forest.

Of the parts of Wisconsin within 100 kilometers of a wolf pack (most of the state, excluding the southern and southeastern-most regions), only one-third of the study area was found to be at risk of wolf attacks on livestock. The highest-risk areas comprise just 10.5 percent, concentrated in the northwest and a few pockets near Lake Superior.

The researchers also verified their model using data from 2007-09 and found that their risk map correctly predicted the vast majority (88 percent) of those incidents.

Treves says it’s a good start to help farmers and resource managers target prevention efforts on those high-risk hotspots, distribute limited resources as efficiently and effectively as possible and, hopefully, reduce livestock attacks.

“Prediction promotes prevention,” he says. “Every single wolf pack in Wisconsin has access to people or pets or livestock,” but with only a handful implicated in attacks each year, “the majority of the wolf population is not causing problems.”


University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Thanks to University of Wisconsin-Madison for this article.






  1. Nancy Avatar

    +Prediction promotes prevention,” he says. “Every single wolf pack in Wisconsin has access to people or pets or livestock,” but with only a handful implicated in attacks each year, “the majority of the wolf population is not causing problems.”+

    Could not the same thing be said about the packs in Montana & Idaho? One only has to look at the FWP reports to see that depredations occur in the same areas, over and over again especially around late winter and into calving season. The difference being sheep in the summer months (often on public lands)

    1. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      There just doesn’t seem to be the same irrational fear mongering and rabid anti-wolf hatred in the great lakes region. Why is that?

      1. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        At least in MN, the wolves were never completely exterminated, so in a sense, people grew up with them. Areas such as the Boundary Waters became both a symbol of wilderness and a reservoir for future wolf recolonization.

        There are still those who believe that wolves fit all the stereotypes, but I think there is much more tolerance, in particular with the younger folks. Education probably has something to do with increased tolerance. Quite a few of the seminal studies in terms of wolf behavior occurred in Minnesota and Michigan (Isle Royale).

        There is no “ranching” lobby as in NRM states, and predator control was never really ***politicized***. Michael Robinson’s Predatory Bureaucracy defines this process quite well as it occurred in Western States.

        Deer populations are astronomical, so an ample prey base is present. Some hunters cry and moan, but agricultural damage caused by deer, and the ubiquitous auto/deer collisions, I think, pave a way for more wolf acceptance.

        Not to say that there are not wolf detractors in the area, there are.

        1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
          SEAK Mossback

          Immer —
          I think you are right, from my limited time visiting in-laws and their friends in and around Angle Inlet and also NW Wisconsin. The fact that wolves were there in substantial numbers all along and were not re-introduced is a difference, as is the fact that relatively few people believe they are having much effect on deer or that there are too few deer.

          Alaska is another case. It is very difficult to blame any group for the number of wolves here, given that hunting and trapping seasons are liberal enough that an individual who’s motivated enough has a legal (although probably not practical) ability to have a substantial localized impact on wolves. There are trappers who no doubt spend more effort on wolves, compared with bread and butter species like marten, than makes economic sense — thinking they’re doing a public service for game herds (also a bit of a challenge-prestige thing). In any case, while there are people who believe they’re doing a service to remove wolves, keeping them trimmed back (much like coyote hunters on ranches), but I don’t sense much actual hatred toward wolves or serious thinking that they could or even should be eliminated. Many hunters I know have seen them while hunting, and considered it part of their great Alaskan outdoor adventure, with no impulse to deviate from their target species.

          However, there has been a narrative with a faint similarity to the NRM resulting from a huge federal effort to eliminate wolves between about 1949-1959 that resulted in substantial increases in ungulates in some areas that persisted for years through mild winters through most of the 1960’s before coming to an abrupt end. Wolves quickly repopulated after statehood, but it created a “Good Old Days” period in people’s minds for comparison — whereby some could place blame for declines in some ungulate populations to historically more normal levels on all the new young, green, Aldo-reading state biologists who came in opposed to predator control. However, as time goes on, fewer and fewer people remember the “golden age” of Alaska hunting in the 1950s and 1960s, when game was not only widely abundant but freely accessed almost everywhere before the vast public domain was carved up and regulated, including new parks and native land allotments (People who really remember those days, also remember they included the most appalling commercial hunting guide greed and abuses). Certainly, those in favor of attempting to actively increase ungulate populations through predator control have won an upper hand politically and legally since the mid-1990s, but those are in scale still pretty limited, targeted efforts compared to pre-statehood. And socially, they bear only limited resemblance to the NRM. Recently, the focus and controversy has shifted somewhat from wolves to bears, and there are numerous hunters as well as non-hunters who are not entirely comfortable with it.

          I expect in the NRM region, it may take quite some time to approach a more rational and civil level of public understanding and debate. It will probably involve wolf opponents getting a lot of their way for awhile, liberal public hunts rolling back the overall population. But, eventually the actual effect and role of wolves (amongst other influences) in different areas should become better understood. At some point, hopefully, management of wolves will be considered adequate and hunters will be comfortable enough with it, that they can begin separating themselves from alignment with ag interests and right-wing politicians. In the future, there will be much more important issues in the west than the exact number of wolves . . . . As Herring points out (in my recently arrived issue of HCN — eat your hearts out non-subscribers) “The lawsuits on behalf of the Northern Rockies wolves have had one undeniably good result: They kept maximum protections in place for as long as possible and gave the wolf population time to increase to today’s levels. And that might prove to be a crucial factor in the long-term success of their recovery.”

  2. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Just one question with the statement,

    “It’s just hard to live alongside large carnivores. They damage crops,…”

    How do large carnivores such as wolves destroy crops? Do not wolves remove the deer that do indeed destroy crops?

  3. Nancy Avatar

    I also wondered about those words Immer and just assumed they got misplaced and no one caught it while proof reading the text.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue


      I think black bears do damage crops to a small degree, but then again, this piece was about wolves.

      1. WM Avatar

        Black bears are a leading cause of mortality to the small herd of WI elk, second only to ….wolves.

        1. truthbetold Avatar

          Simply not true!!! Wolves are the leading cause of death for elk in the clam lake herd in WI….this is highly studied & not debatable! Just fact!

          1. timz Avatar

            From WI DNR Clam Lake Herd Updates –“Current Status: NO OBSERVED ELK MORTALITY DURING THE 4TH QUARTER (OCTOBER THROUGH DECEMBER) OF 2010. This means our estimate of 162 elk still stands. From the start of the 2009/2010 elk year, that began in mid May 2009, we had lost 18 elk by December 31, 2009, 5 of which were due to wolves. During the same period this year we lost 4 elk, only one due to wolves.”
            Truth be told.

          2. jon Avatar

            are you reality22?

  4. Nancy Avatar

    And I don’t think black bears fall into the catagory of large carnivores, herbivores yes.

    1. Jon Way Avatar

      omnivores…They do actively seek fawns and carcasses.

  5. ma'iingan Avatar

    The wild card, at least in Wisconsin, is Governor Scott Walker. He’s already demonstrated he’s capable of ignoring science by refusing to listen to a proposal to adjust the wolf management goal for the state. It’ll be interesting to see his position once Great Lakes delisting is enacted.

  6. Wolfy Avatar

    The Wisconsin DNR is much more forthcoming in wolf management than Michigan. They tend to be more science based and proactive as well. Michigan, on the other hand, has Russ Mason for their Wildlife Division Chief. Mason is probably one of the most anti-wildlife people you will ever meet. He has a PHD in Chemical Wildlife Control (no kidding). The man has poisoning wildlife down to an art and he’s leading the State agency that will manage wolves after delisting. He’s appeared many times at public meetings and propagated anti-wolf, anti-predator, and anti-government rhetoric. Lord have pity on us when he gets his hands on wolf management in earnest. Where do they get guys like this? Why, Arizona, of course. Seems that the Michigan NRC likes the way the westerners think or at least they have to go that far to get a piece of work like Mason.

  7. Moose Avatar

    Official report on the failed attempt in 70’s to transplant four wolves in UP.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thanks Moose,

      I had never heard of this experiment.

      It certainly shows the difficulty of getting a small number of wolves to become something more, and I think the wisdom of the large reintroduction that took place in Idaho and Yellowstone Park in 1995 and again in 1996.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        While a small reintroduction, it provided (along with the red wolf recovery area) good tenets for restoring wolves in the rockies:
        1. soft release in Yellowstone to get them acclimated to the area
        2. relatively large numbers in a relatively concentrated area over the period of 2 years

        I hope this also happens in the NE to restore a more wolf-like canid to the region…

  8. Wolfy Avatar

    Many of the locals here believe that the relocation of Canadian wolves or problem wolves from other states is still on-going. (not true) The four wolves brought here in 1974 died (all by human caused mortality) and that was the last attempt to re-introduce wolves here. The ancestors of the 600 or so wolves here now originated in Minnesota, populated Northern Wisconsin, and some of their progeny then moved into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A few have been dicovered in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan in recent years.

  9. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Truth be Told,

    Your rant, short as it may be, follows in the vein of a noted anti-wolf, blogger, because you did not read what WM wrote, then jumped to your assumption. Echoes of R XXII.

  10. truthbetold Avatar

    Immer, correct you are. I have followed the Clam Lake Elk herd for some time. I don’t like what I see happening. Myself, along with many others don’t think to much of the current situation for it gives you a true perspective of the wolf. Look up the predictions of how the herd would do by Dr Anderson and others. That was until the wolf showed up.

    WM pushed a button that is common and should not be ignored.

  11. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue


    Pray tell, but whAt button did WM push? Wolves # 1 in impact on Wisconsin elk. Bears #2. I might add from the studies I have read, cars also are an important variable in Terms of elk mortality in that neck of the woods. I don’t have the data with me, nor do I have the ability to access it at this time, but wolves or no wolves with the Wisconsin elk, and the odds are still stacked against a robust elk population. just my opinion.

    1. truthbetold Avatar

      I believe Dr Andersons prediction of mortality has held up pretty well with one exception and we both know what that is. It’s an animal that has not been brought into the North American model of wildlife management, one that has only been managed by environmental groups. Bears, cars have followed the script for the most part.

      In the August 23, 1998 Elk study report Dr Anderson, is quoted as saying “At this rate of productivity and survivorship, we could have about 500 elk in 11 years. Old Timz is tooting his horn about a population of 162 with three tough months of predation to start the new calendar year.

      Highly studied animal with telling results!

      1. timz Avatar

        Yes “old Timz” still remembers his first grade math where 5 of 18 and 1 of 4 are not a majority.

        1. truthbetold Avatar

          Timz glad to see your 1st grade math is working. Now, look up the word EXTRAPOLATE. Wolf kill elk are typically found by the collared animals. Less than half are collared.

          So (I hope you can still follow this) if your 1 in four was one wolf killed collar, two incidental car kill and a incidental find of liver flukes. The true numbers are 3 wolf killed. 1 liver flukes and the two car kills

          Please work your magic “majority” on the extrapolated numbers for the 2009/2010 elk calendar year! That would be much more fun!

          If you have 5 wolf killed collared elk that’s more like a dozen in total!…..

          Now the test: In 8 days wolves killed three highly pregnant collared cows the elk year before last. What would the extrapolated numbers be?
          Would the pregnant elk fall into the sick, weak or old category? Good luck .

          1. timz Avatar

            If, if if. And if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. Just reading the WI DNR numbers.

          2. truthbetold Avatar

            Like I said, Highly studied animal with telling results!

  12. Linda Jo Hunter Avatar

    Elk are on earth to be eaten. Plants are on earth to be eaten. Some people think elk shouldn’t be eaten, unless of course they eat them. The people who think that nature’s control for elk; wolves, bears, mountain lions, are not supposed to do their job anymore should go talk to a bee . . bees might tell you that they think elk should not eat plants. I would guess bees are pro-wolf.

  13. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue



    Back to elk. Man, but the odds are just stacked against them in Wisconsin. In order to get their numbers up to where they might be hunted, with wolves, bears, and cars, and the rare idiot with a gun who thought it was a big deer(don’t know if this has happened yet) will preve t this from happening.

    The time to bring back elk to Wisconsin was sometime after man eliminated them and when Yellowstone was trying tomfind home for their excess elk. During that time period a robust elk population had a chance for establishment. Wolves are here now.


  14. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Oh to have a computer!

    Timz, the info you gave on WI elk is the latest I was able to dig up, and that was a while ago.

    Truth, if you are r 22, I’m not a betting man, but I’d bet you are… Good to have your input, and for you quedos for stepping into the lions den.

    1. timz Avatar

      It was for 2009/2010 not that long ago.

  15. truthbetold Avatar

    Immer Treue, I hope you’re not best buds with Pete Rose!! I typically don’t comment here just visit to see what’s on the minds of the anti-hunting folks. I did totally enjoy Mark Gamblin (IDFG) comments today. Good day!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan