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Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

Cry Wolf

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Someone very close to me worries a lot about wolves. She doesn’t worry about being attacked by packs of wolves. Nor is she afraid that when she goes through the woods to grandmother’s house, a wolf will be in granny’s bed wearing a frilly bonnet.

She worries that Wisconsin can hardly wait to wipe out all the wolves again.

The wolf is one of the most romantic symbols in nature. Wolves are the Willie Nelsons and Waylon Jennings of wildlife—scruffy outlaws living free and refusing to follow the rules laid down by the slicked-down establishment of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

That’s why we have a picture of a wolf on our Wisconsin license plate. Of course, now that the DNR is under new Republican management, the wolf could be replaced with a picture of that parking lot they put up after they paved paradise.

To say Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is environmentally unfriendly is like saying bears leave signs in the woods.

Walker was hardly in the door when he began destroying a wetland for commercial development and attempting to outlaw wind energy in Wisconsin.

Nowhere is Walker’s hostility toward the environment more obvious than in his choice of former Republican state Sen. Cathy Stepp as DNR secretary.

This woman doesn’t even like butterflies. What chance do wolves have?

Stepp is a Racine County real estate developer. It’s said you can always tell what natural resources developers have destroyed by the names of their real estate projects. Housing developments named Forest Glen or Deer Creek or Wolf Hollow have been denuded of trees, seen the deer run off and watched the creek dry up—and if a wolf ever wandered by, an organized posse would grab torches and pitchforks.

It’s no joke about the butterflies. On a right-wing blog in 2009, Stepp posted this attack upon the department she now heads: “People who go to work for the DNR's land, waste, and water bureaus tend to be anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes, Karner blue butterflies, etc.

“This is in their nature; their make-up and DNA,” Stepp continues. “So, since they're unelected bureaucrats who have only their cubicle walls to bounce ideas off of, they tend to come up with some pretty outrageous stuff that those of us in the real world have to contend with.”

State Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) took Stepp’s appointment as an opportunity to audition as a writer for late-night television, saying: “Appointing Cathy Stepp to be in charge of our health and environmental safeguards is like putting Lindsay Lohan in charge of a rehab center.”

Stepp’s legislative voting record on issues of importance to environmentalists was less than 30%.

Wrong Target

Walker’s election campaign was pitched at voters whose primary interest in the environment is to use it as a shooting range. Walker made vague promises that if he controlled the DNR, hunters would have a better chance of coming home with a blown-away deer.

Uh-oh. That means wolves are in trouble.

Even though Wisconsin hunters “harvested” more than 200,000 deer last November, hunters can never have enough excuses for why some of them come home with nothing more than a hangover and big poker losses.

One of the growing excuses of choice is to blame it on the wolves. No one really knows for sure how many wolves are in the state because wolves are notorious for slipping around and refusing to turn in census forms. The most recent DNR estimate from last winter was around 700. Just 10 years before, struggling back from near extinction, there were only about 250 gray wolves. That’s why they’re on the federal endangered species list.

Even before Stepp, the DNR was petitioning the Department of the Interior to remove the gray wolf from
that list. Only lawsuits from environmentalists have prevented it.

The idea of a wolf problem in Wisconsin is more emotional than real. Wolves kill about 50 livestock or dogs a year in northern Wisconsin. Owners are reimbursed by the state.

As for deadly predators decimating the deer population, that’s hunters, not wolves. The DNR says about 450,000 deer are killed annually in various hunts compared to about 13,000 deer killed by wolves.

Actually, wolves aren’t even deer’s major natural predators. A recent study recording deer kills in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula identified the dominant predators by far as coyotes, followed by bobcats. Wolves were way behind.

Besides, what goes on in nature is between the wolves and the deer. We’re the interlopers trying to manipulate nature for our own sport.

The state DNR apparently now has only two missions—to facilitate commercial development and to maximize the number of deer riding home tied to hunters’ fenders.

The wolf isn’t the only one in trouble. So are all other living things, all our state’s natural treasures and real important stuff like air and water.