Steuben farmer Jeff Drake is a die-hard Wisconsin Badgers fan, so when he returned home from the Badgers' 48-17 drubbing of Nebraska on Oct. 1 he couldn't have been in better spirits. Those good feelings didn't last long however, after discovering that one of his beef calves had been slaughtered by a marauding predator.
"I went to the ball game and everything was fine," Drake recalls, "but when I got home and checked on the second herd Sunday morning I found a dead calf in the hayfield. Its neck was broken and it was three-quarters eaten, including many of the ribs, which were completely gone. It was skinned. You've never seen an animal skinned so well; it was like a human did it."
But a human didn't do it. USDA Wildlife Services has determined that the large calf had been killed by a wolf-the furthest south such a case of wolf depredation has been reported in Wisconsin in modern history.
Before USDA got involved, Drake called fellow Steuben beef producer Bob Mitchell, who raises hundreds of beef cattle on 3,000 acres just up Stockyard Road from Drake's farm. "He said, ‘This doesn't look right; it's definitely not a coyote.'"
Mitchell suggested calling new Crawford County Conservation Warden Cody Adams, a Boscobel native who transferred here from Chippewa County in July. Adams took one look at the mutilated calf and told Drake to call USDA, which is in charge of the federally endangered grey or timber wolf.
"Ultimately, the USDA is the final say on that," Adams said. "A biologist I am not, but (wolves) can definitely put a lot of miles on. I don't think it's necessarily something that's never happened before," Adams said of wolves traveling through this area.
One person who is a biologist is Dave Matheys, DNR wildlife biologist out of Viroqua.
"Crawford County is kind of a buffer zone," Matheys said. "There is a reasonable probability of wolves moving through this area and it's certainly possible that wolves continue to expand their territory from north to south."
Matheys said that the closest established wolf pack to this area is currently in the Fort McCoy area and the northeast corner of Monroe County.
"Monroe County has had some reports of wolf depredation," Matheys said.
If the USDA confirms that livestock have been killed by wolves, there are funds available to compensate the farmer. However, farmers can not take matters into their own hands due to the fact that despite numerous legal challenges, wolves are still listed as a federally endangered species.
"No matter what zone you're in, no landowner can initiate control measures on their own," Matheys explained. "And in most cases one incident does not warrant lethal measures."
Chip Lovell is the district supervisor at the USDA's Wildlife Services office in Waupun. He said Tuesday that his office's investigation has concluded that it was a wolf that killed Drake's calf.
"We determined that it was a wolf," Lovell said. "It's the furthest south and west that we've discovered wolf depredation in Wisconsin."
Lovell's office will be contacting Drake with some recommendations to avoid further damage, but there isn't much he can do as a private landowner.
"Because wolves are an endangered species, not much can be done," Lovell said. "We're currently waiting for the de-listing process to take place, hopefully by the end of the year, but it's very political with groups like PETA involved."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other animal rights groups stopped the de-listing process through a number of lawsuits which are currently in the review process.
"They were able to initiate a five-year moratorium on the de-listing process," Matheys said of animal rights groups. "It doesn't mean anything in the end to (USDA), but it does make a difference to the farmer or rancher whose livelihood is being affected. Their hands are tied. It's a big bloody mess."
As for Drake, well, he's still worried.
"Our cattle are still spooked," he said. "The other night they were raising Cain at three in the morning. I grabbed a flashlight and a rifle and went up there. They were all in a tight little circle. These cattle have never been spooked like they are now. Something's still around. This is the last thing I wanted on the farm."