Shirley Clements: Wolves are not Wiping Out Deer

Original op-ed published by the The FDL Reporter on January 31, 2018

Some hunters think if they don’t see deer, there are no deer, therefore deer hunting in Wisconsin is bad. When there are fewer deer/car crashes, they say this indicates deer numbers are down, as if that’s a bad situation that needs to be rectified. They blame predators (mainly wolves) and the Department of Natural Resources for “destroying” the northern deer herd.

Such hunters pledge to do “whatever is necessary” to “restore deer numbers and quality deer hunting in northern Wisconsin.” Yet, these hunters fail to look at themselves, their attitudes and activities. Because their notions are mistaken, and not in the best interests of deer or the future of deer hunting.

Wolves and other wildlife in Wisconsin that rely on deer for food are not wiping them out. And the DNR had purpose behind past actions.

Consider the following:

Deer reached peak numbers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many foresters were speaking out about poor tree regeneration after timber sales. So, antlerless deer permits — for harvests focusing on does — were liberally issued during the early 2000s. The damage of heavy browsing from an overpopulated herd needed to be addressed.

Besides this planned effort of liberal harvesting, to bring deer numbers down, habitat has been changing up north. More forest is growing older, supporting less deer. Deer need young forests for primary food.

Delayed spring green-ups (like the greatly delayed one in 2013), and hard winters (like the very harsh winter of 2013-14) have been factors, too, for deer decline.  Some deer die even in mild winters. In very severe winters, deer loss in northern Wisconsin can be dramatic — up to 30 percent.

Predators (coyote, bobcat, bear, wolf) are a factor in deer decline but a relatively minor one. While wolves are part of the overall impact of deer decline, they are a fairly small part of it.

The biggest factors affecting Wisconsin’s deer herd are hunting season harvests and winters.

There is little evidence increased wolf killing would add more deer to the population. Reducing wolves only allows for an increase in coyotes and, consequently, fawn predation.

To improve northern deer hunting, harvesting bucks only across the northwoods would help the deer population grow if winters are milder. And this has happened. Currently, the northern herd is growing after “buck-only” harvests and mild winters (2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-2017), despite wolves.

However, the deer herd should not be increased by much for the good of the land. Also, more regularity and better distribution of timber sales would have young forests better scattered across the landscape. Such timber management needs to balance concerns with old growth and older forests, making sure these habitats are adequately maintained to protect biodiversity.

There remains a big problem the above hunters omit when talking about the enhancement of deer hunting: The baiting and feeding of deer. In so doing, they fail to do “everything” necessary to help deer and deer hunting.

It is apparently easy to (wrongly) condemn wild animals and a state agency but too hard to personally give up something that is a real source of trouble.

Among other things (like disease transmission and artificially high deer numbers), baiting and feeding contributes to very irregular distribution of deer and makes them more nocturnal—so hunters see deer much less. Eliminating these practices would cause deer to expand on the landscape and be more active in the daytime.

And some hunters want more bears killed for the sake of deer hunting: Bears kill the most fawns in the north.  Instead, once again, look at the practice of baiting. If the state only allowed the baiting of bears during the bear hunting season (September, October) and up to 2 weeks before its start, a population based on natural forage would result–naturally decreasing bear numbers. Currently, bear hunters bait from April to October, resulting in an artificially high bear population raised on artificial food sources.

Additionally, ethics, fair chase and real challenge would enrich deer hunting, too. Because Wisconsin is suffering from a loss of honest and respectable hunting concepts and principles.

The above hunters supported Dr. Kroll’s 2012 deer report, ordered by Gov. Walker to appease them. But these hunters completely ignore or dismiss the fact that Kroll admonished Wisconsin hunters for having unrealistic expectations, for wanting so many deer they would destroy the landscape.

Kroll wrote such hunters want DNR action to increase the deer population “without regard to negative impacts to the other resources and conflicts with the rest of society,” (for example, agricultural and non-agricultural damage, deer-vehicle collisions with injuries and death, and spread of illnesses).

These hunters would like to go back to the good old days of deer hunting when the herd was overly abundant and destructive.

Also, Kroll pointed out the “positive effects from predation” such as “helping to balance deer populations with their environment which may reduce the negative impacts of over-browsing on forest regeneration and biodiversity.”

Concerning wolves, Kroll recommended against trying to manage them at any specific number, but instead manage “to reduce conflicts.”

Finally, education is needed to increase the number of hunters who understand predator/prey relationships and healthy ecosystems. This would result in good regulations and policies in wildlife management.

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience is his willingness to sacrifice something today for generations tomorrow, whose words of thanks will not be heard.”  (Gaylord Nelson)

Shirley Clements

Fond du Lac


(photo by D. Robert Franz)


2 thoughts on “Shirley Clements: Wolves are not Wiping Out Deer

  1. When will this message be understood? This is 2018 and we still have no clue on the importance and care we need for all animals.


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