When our Isthmus editor asked Doug and I if we were interested in writing a story about wolves based on some soon-to-be-published research by Adrian Treves on wolves in Wisconsin, we jumped at the chance. Gathering all the pieces took several months.
While working on my masters degree in science journalism about 10 years ago, I took a semester-long seminar on wolves in Wisconsin, and when Doug was working on his first degree in conservation biology in the 70s, he was fascinated to follow the very first steps wolves made back into this part of the world. We both remember those studies vividly because wolves are such an iconic species – representing what we most love and what we most fear about wilderness.
So, we are particularly pleased to share this article that appeared in Isthmus .
Would a legal hunt spell the end of Wisconsin’s wolves?
MARCH 16, 2017
The world was created in a particular order. First came the physical earth and heavenly bodies, according to the Anishinaabe, a group that includes several Native American tribes. Then came the plants, followed by the animals and finally humans.
When the humans arrived, the Great Spirit asked them to walk the earth and name all things in the Creator’s garden, says Joe Rose, an elder with the Bad River Tribe. While Original Man was doing his walkabout, the Great Spirit sent a companion, and that was the wolf, to accompany him. As they traveled, they became brothers.
Then the Great Spirit called Original Man and Wolf into his presence and told them, Rose says, “In many ways you are alike. When you take a mate, it will be for life. Your social orders will be very complex. You will make your living by the chase, and both of you will be excellent hunters.” Then the Great Spirit told them, “from this day forward you will walk different paths.”
Rose explains that this creation mythology is part prophesy, an unfinished story. “The wolf became a very powerful symbol of the wilderness. Whenever we encroach on the wolf’s territory, he retreats further into the wilderness,” Rose says. “The Great Spirit told Wolf that, ‘a time might come when you will no longer have a place to retreat, and wilderness will no longer exist. If that happens, you too will pass out of existence.’ Speaking to Original Man, the Great Spirit said, ‘if your brother wolf passes out of existence, you will soon follow. You will die of great loneliness of spirit. If you pass out of existence, all other races of human beings will soon follow.’”
Before Europeans settled in Wisconsin, there were an estimated 3,000 wolves thriving here, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. But European settlers did not consider the wolf a brother. Bounty hunters earned millions of dollars from Wisconsin taxpayers killing wolves, and by 1960, there were none left in the state.
Since the passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973, wolves have slowly returned to Wisconsin. Dick Thiel, a retired DNR biologist, documented the presence of wolves breeding in Wisconsin in the winter of 1977-78. That spring, two packs had pups. “The founders of those first packs probably moved into Wisconsin from Minnesota and approved of each other enough to develop into packs,” Thiel says. From that fragile start, the wolf population in Wisconsin has grown to almost 900.
Ongoing research supports the Anishinaabe view of how wolves are similar to humans. The animals share strong social bonds, form tight family groups, live collectively to raise pups and nurture injured members. They are curious, caring, intelligent and adaptable, all traits that have fueled their rapid recovery.
But their adaptability and intelligence may not be enough to save them from legislation now on the docket in Washington. In a rare moment of agreement, both U.S. senators representing Wisconsin — Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin — are supporting the delisting of gray wolves. U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) is sponsoring a similar bill in the House. Delisting would remove the animals from federal protection and allow them to be hunted in Wisconsin.