‘University Place’: Rapid Changes in Wolf Policy Only Heat Up the Conflict

By Scott Gordon, Wiscontext

For Erik Olson, an assistant professor of natural resources at Northland College in Ashland, the biggest weakness in Wisconsin’s policy toward wolves hasn’t been any one particular policy decision. Rather, he asserted in an August 18, 2015, talk at the Madeline Island Museum, state and federal officials have mostly erred in changing their policies numerous times in only a few years.

In his talk, “The Tug Of War Over Wolves,” recorded for Wisconsin Public Television’s University Place program, Olson detailed the many times wolves’ conservation status in Wisconsin has changed since 2005, as well as the policies surrounding the state’s controversial wolf hunt conducted over three seasons from 2012 to 2014. The hunt ended when a federal judge ordered the gray wolf to be placed back on the Endangered Species List in Great Lakes states. Additionally, state wildlife officials sometimes have had the authority to kill depredating wolves — those that kill livestock or pets — and sometimes have not.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported on June 16 that the state’s wolf population had reached a record high of between 866 and 897 animals, making for a 16 percent increase over 2015. On June 20, Gov. Scott Walker called for the wolf hunt to be resumed.

These frequent policy shifts, Olson said, escalate the frustrations of farmers who see wolves threatening their livestock and hunters who view them as competing for game. Drawing on his research and others’ work, Olson discussed how the state’s wolf-management policies have affected the wolf population and people’s opinions about it.

In his talk, Olson didn’t advance any one particular policy solution — in fact, he said the “prescriptive” nature of Wisconsin’s wolf hunt is part of the issue. But he did advocate for slowing down the frequent policy changes and looking for ways to cool the conflict and give everyone with a stake in the problem a chance to feel heard and empowered. To watch full video.

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