Scientists from a New York-based wildlife group and researchers from Wisconsin say they have developed a high-tech way to predict where wolves might prey on livestock, perhaps allowing farmers to prevent the attacks. Timber wolves killed 20 cattle and 24 sheep on more than a dozen farms across northern Wisconsin last year. The Wildlife Conservation Society is using GIS mapping and it developed maps of Wisconsin and Minnesota suggesting problem spots for wolves.
Adrian Treves, a scientist for the group, said he was optimistic the maps can be used to reduce conflict between wolves and people, so that wolves won’t be needlessly killed to solve the problem.
John Erb, a wolf biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources in Minnesota, was more cautious about the practical value of the mapping. Minnesota has a population of about 2,450 timber wolves. He said the maps would be useful in looking at the growth of wolf populations and trying to predict the factors associated with where they will cause problems.
The timber wolf is a native species that was wiped out in Wisconsin by the late 1950s after decades of bounty hunting. Since the animal was granted protection as an endangered species in the mid-1970s, wolves migrated into the state from Minnesota; their numbers have been growing ever since.
The most recent count indicated 335 wolves roamed in Wisconsin, mainly in the north. Each year, 100 to 200 wolves in Minnesota are destroyed for killing cattle, sheep, horses, turkeys, ducks or dogs.
In developing maps suggesting problem spots for wolves in the two states, Wildlife Conservation Society scientists looked at road density, farm size, availability of deer as prey, wolf populations, hunting policies and other factors. The Wisconsin map reveals the highest risk townships are clustered along the edge of the wolf-population areas with the lowest habitat suitable for wolves and where newly formed wolf packs encounter landowners with little recent experience with them. In Minnesota, risk is particularly high for farms sharing the land with dense deer populations, according to the maps. Techniques such as guard animals, improved fencing and new scare devices that use random sounds and light can deter wolves from preying on livestock, the researchers said.