|WHERE'S THE BUCK? (Photo from several years ago)|
The Wisconsin 2017 gun deer season closed last Sunday, and initial results are in: the harvest numbers for the state were down slightly from last year, but the Northwoods unit of 22 northern counties was up. The deer have come back from their low point of several years ago, when they suffered greatly from severe winter weather, which, according to the DNR biologists, still rules the deer herd. As I have said previously, I no longer hunt, but remain interested in wildlife science and deer management, and I have been a persistent critic of the over-harvesting of does.
I also have been at times critical of the reintroduction of wolves and their impact on the deer herd, but as the wolf population has stabilized (now increasing and decreasing with the numbers of deer), I have come to the conclusion that if predator/prey relationships are normal wolf predation will not affect overall deer numbers, and will actually improve the health of the herd. This of course was first theorized by the great conservationist Aldo Leopold, and which he summarized in his short but eloquent essay on wolves, "Thinking Like A Mountain." It is probably the briefest (three pages), most logical and most poetic ecological treatise ever written. He explains the role of the wolf pack in maintaining the health of the deer herd, the ecological damage done by an overpopulation of deer, and the esthetics of wolves.
Wolves probably are not an overwhelming factor in the numbers of deer, and overall are beneficial to the deer herd and the health of the ecosystem. If there were 1,000 Wisconsin wolves, and they each killed 15 deer per year, it would only be only a tiny fraction of the herd, about the same numbers as roadkill. Black bear predation on fawns is probably as great a factor in deer numbers as wolves. And who would not thrill to the cry of the wolf on some moonlit wilderness night?
My favorite book regarding wolves is Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. He is a Canadian author of immense talent who is one of my favorite writers, and a major figure in wolf ecology. Never Cry Wolf is insightful, poignant, and wildly funny. He comes to the same conclusions as Leopold.
We haven't heard much about wolves hereabouts for several years, but now that the deer herd is increasing the wolves will move back and increase, and we will hear their howls in the woods, and there will be wolf stories told around the campfires again.