Should Wolf Protection Be Relaxed?
Since being listed as an endangered species wolves in the Upper Midwest increased from about 700 animals in 1974 to about 2,000 in 1996, with most of the increase occurring in Minnesota and the upper peninsula of Michigan. As a result wolves were moving into northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources started radio collaring wolves in 1979 and by 1996 there were about 100 wolves in the northern part of the state. David Mladenoff's research was aimed at finding out how much good wolf habitat there was in the state, where it was, and what made it good habitat for wolves. He used a geographic information system approach to map the places where wolves were and to ask what it was about those places that was different from other places. It turned out roads, or rather the lack of them, are the best predictor of good wolf habitat. That is, the more likely a wolf is to come into contact with people, the less likely it will stick around or survive. In 1996 there were about 100 wolves in northern Wisconsin; today they are up to about 380 animals, and they are starting to cause some problems, occasionally attacking livestock and hunting dogs. The wolf’s dramatic recovery in Wisconsin has highlighted some of the conflicts inherent in managing the landscape for different, often conflicting purposes. Dave’s interests have been more in the line of understanding how the landscape changes over the long haul in response different management practices and different climate scenarios. His interest in wolves was and is secondary to understanding how the land changes, but wolves are giving us good clues about what trajectory the northern woods are on now.
David Mladenoff received his Ph.D. in forest ecology from the University of Wisconsin. He has worked for the Nature Conservancy in Washington state and in California, and also the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute. He is currently a professor in the department of forestry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. We spoke with him about his work on understanding how landscapes change and how the wolf recovery fits into that story.