By Dan Egan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin's wolves are thriving today at the top of the food
chain in the North Woods, but the species may be headed for
extinction - on state license plates.
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board will consider a proposal
today to remove the wolf from the state threatened species
list. While officials with the Department of Natural Resources
say there is no corresponding plan to also take the wolf off
Wisconsin's endangered resources license plate, that day likely
"We are looking at some other options, but the wolf
has been very popular - whether it's endangered or not,"
said Randy Jurewicz, a biologist in the DNR's Bureau of Endangered
Resources. "There are a lot of people who buy that plate."
The plates cost an initial $15 and also require a $25 annual
fee. Jurewicz said they brought in just over $600,000 for
species recovery programs in 2003.
Bureau director Signe Holtz said the king of the carnivores
won't be removed for at least a year, but talk about possible
replacements has started.
"There are people interested in native plants,"
said Holtz. "For instance, dwarf lake iris is beautiful."
But it may not pack the passion evoked by the wolf - a species
cherished by many, but also widely reviled.
April 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the animal's down-listing
in Wisconsin from endangered to threatened under the federal
Endangered Species Act.
The move marked a milestone in the recovery of a species
that had been hunted and trapped into oblivion in Wisconsin
by the mid-20th century.
The wolf was among the first protected following passage
of the 1973 law, and it didn't take long for the animals to
begin roaming over from Minnesota, where they were never extirpated.
Today Wisconsin is home to about 350 wolves - about the state's
carrying capacity, according to state wildlife experts. "It
seems like we're filling up most of the north forest areas,"
said the DNR's Adrian Wydeven.
Prior to last year's down-listing, it was illegal to kill
a wolf except in human life-threatening circumstances. State
wildlife officials could only trap and move wolves that developed
a taste for livestock or pets.
The move from endangered to threatened opened the door to
wolf killing by government officials, though it is still illegal
for private citizens to kill a problem animal.
In 2003, 17 animals were killed by government workers, and
another 36 wolves were found dead in the state. That figure
includes nine that were shot illegally and 14 killed by automobiles.
Disease accounted for most of the other deaths.
The down-listing was hailed by livestock operators and others
opposed to wolf recovery. But some wolf advocates contend
wolves have never been much of a problem for the livestock
industry overall, and the relaxed protections have not had
much of an effect on livestock operations.
The state's move to take the wolf off its threatened list
is considered largely symbolic because it will remain a federal
threatened species. But the federal government is also considering
taking the wolf off its threatened list.
It can't happen soon enough for people like Lawrence Krak,
an outspoken critic of the efforts to restore the wolf to
"Landowners should be able to dispatch them at will
whenever they cross their land," said Krak, president
of the group, People Against Wolves. "They are not an
endangered species. As far as I'm concerned, we don't need
a damn one in this state."
Wydeven doesn't see that day happening anytime soon, even
after the wolf is taken off the federal threatened list.
"It will still be a protected species," said Wydeven,
adding that protections would be relaxed.