By DAVID KRIER
Steuben farmer Jeff Drake remembers the date well: Aug. 4, 2013. That’s the day he shot an 80-pound grey wolf chasing cattle on his property. Fast forward 14 months and Drake has had another confirmed wolf kill, this time a Limousine bull calf that was confirmed by USDA-Wildlife Services “…to be depredated by wolves on October 3, 2014.”
“It makes me sick; I’m really getting tired of this,” Drake said.
Drake suspects wolves also killed two day-old calves last spring, but their bodies were never found.
“They told me that when they’re that young the wolves may take the bodies back to their dens to feed their pups,” he said.
All told, Drake has had three cattle confirmed killed by wolves since 2012, as well as the two missing calves. He is now awaiting action on his Wolf Depredation Reimbursement Request from the DNR.
“I apologize for the delay in reimbursement,” wrote Brad Koele, DNR Wildlife Damage Specialist on Nov. 5. “the wolf compensation program is funded by the sale of wolf hunting/trapping licenses and applications and State Statute requires the Department to prorate claims when funding is not sufficient to pay for all depredation claims. Because the department will not know the total amount of revenue generated from applications and licenses or the total amount requested for wolf damage compensation until the end of the calendar year, all wolf damage reimbursement requests need to be held until the end of each calendar year before payments can be made.”
However, in speaking with Koele last week, he said he doesn’t expect to have to prorate claims, thanks in part to a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“Beef prices are up, and it is hurting some farmers,” Koele said. “The fortunate thing is we haven’t had to prorate in the past and I don’t anticipate prorating this year. We should have sufficient funds.”
Last year the DNR had 45 wolf depredation claims and paid out $151,333. This year there have been 29 claims for hunting dogs and 29 for livestock, nearly all calves.
“So far this year livestock claims are down, but dog claims are up,” Koele said.
Up the road from Drake at the Mitchell family’s Spring Creek Cattle Company two calves were killed earlier this year, but USDA-Wildlife Services said the bite marks were too small to be a wolf and it was probably the work of coyotes.
“They don’t claim them as wolf kills,” said Amy Mitchell. “Apparently, the size of the bite marks was off a few centimeters, which is odd, because we’ve never had problems with coyotes before.”
“I did see one of those buggers by my house last Thursday, I’m pretty sure. So they’re around,” added Amy’s father-in-law, Bob Mitchell.
So what is it about the Steuben area that makes it the only place south of Portage to have confirmed wolf kills?
"It's like a lot of Crawford County; it's remote by southern Wisconsin standards," said Dave Matheys, DNR wildlife biologist out of Viroqua. "But the Drake farm? It's just kind of one of those head scratchers."