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Feds investigate illegal wolf killings in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan

DULUTH - Federal agents are investigating a rash of illegal wolf killings across northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where at least 16 wolves have been shot in recent months.

There's a sense that more people -- especially deer hunters -- are upset with wolves, said Adrian Wydeven, wolf biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource. He cited one behavioral survey that showed the number of hunters who said they would shoot a wolf if they saw one increased from 11 percent to 16 percent.

"During the nine-day deer season we had eight killed, and that's the second-most ever," Wydeven said.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service asked for the public's help Tuesday in finding what probably are multiple suspects in 16 wolf killings across the three states in November and December.

Two wolves were killed in Minnesota, eight in Wisconsin and six in Michigan.

Though it's not unusual to see a spike in wolves shot during fall hunting season, the number of wolves found in recent months is higher than in some recent years. Most of the wolves found dead had radio transmitters that alert researchers when the animal stops moving.

"We know when a collared wolf dies," said Tom Tidwell, federal wildlife agent. "We have no doubt that wolves without collars are getting killed, too."

Though wolf numbers have rebounded over the last 30 years beyond most people's expectations, the animals remain under protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. It's a violation of federal law to kill the animals unless they are threatening to harm a person. The exception is in Minnesota, where federal trappers kill wolves near farms where livestock have been killed.

"The law applies to everyone, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with the level of protection currently afforded to wolves," said Greg Jackson, special agent in charge for the Midwest region.

With deer numbers down across the wolf range, mostly because of increased hunter harvest in recent years, and with more people seeing more wolf sign, Wydeven said some people are taking matters into their own hands.

"There are indications people are frustrated that wolves are still being protected, that they can't hunt them, even if wolves aren't the reason they didn't see a deer during deer [hunting] season," he said.

Pat Lund, federal wildlife agent in charge of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, agreed.

"Most of the time it's shoot, shovel and shut up. So you know we aren't finding most of them," Lund said. "There is clearly some growing frustration with ongoing [wolf] protection, with all the legal hoopla back and forth. ... But the biggest factor is you have a lot of people in the woods with guns in the fall, and apparently more of them are willing to shoot wolves."

In Wisconsin, eight wolves were killed in late fall in Burnett, Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Adams, Monroe and Jackson counties and on two Indian reservations. Four of the wolves were radio-collared by the DNR.

Two wolves were killed in northern Minnesota in early November. One wolf was shot northwest of Grand Rapids in the Ball Club area; the second was killed northwest of Two Harbors. The wolf killed near Two Harbors had been fitted with a radio tracking collar.

Six incidents of wolves being killed were reported in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in December. All of the wolves were discovered after their radio collars began emitting a mortality signal.