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Photo by Kat Schleicher The INOVA space on the first floor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Kenilworth Building does what art galleries are supposed to do: disappear. White walls, concrete floors, high black ceilings – an über-neutral background for the objects. But today, the art is something of a distraction. At least for Debra Loewen, […]

Photo by Kat Schleicher

The INOVA space on the first floor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Kenilworth Building does what art galleries are supposed to do: disappear. White walls, concrete floors, high black ceilings – an über-neutral background for the objects.

But today, the art is something of a distraction. At least for Debra Loewen, the director and leading creative mind behind Wild Space Dance Company. “It’s so hard to see it clearly,” she tells me as she tries to mentally brush away the objects in the current exhibit. “I had a few hours here when it was empty, back in September, but I wish I had more time.”

It’s only a minor obstacle that doesn’t stop Loewen from seeing the space in her own particular way – as both place and stage, filled with dancers and spectators moving and looking in ways that somehow bring out the most essential qualities of the room. That is what Loewen and Wild Space do: help people see places in new ways. She has looked at Milwaukee spaces and places this way for almost three decades – parks, bank lobbies, sculpture gardens, warehouses, even a parking garage, where the “place” in question was the Milwaukee night skyline. And she has imagined bodies moving in them, two women in swirling white skirts wading through the Menomonee River, a man climbing around the smooth steel machinery of a century-old bank vault, a group encircling the base of a massive brick chimney.

Now, on this November afternoon, she is filled with ideas for her new piece, Sight Readings. “I don’t like to frontload ideas for a piece [by saying], ‘This dance is about this.’” But wheels are turning. Compared to parks and bridges, this is small, even contained. She wants to explore the idea of proximity and what it means to move in a gallery, a space where people look at things in a particular way.

She walks slowly through the space, eyes wandering, considering distances, angles, volumes and possible compositions. She peers around a corner into a dead-end nook that has collected janitorial equipment. “This could be very interesting,” she says. She sees a narrow passage and thinks about dancers disappearing and reappearing. A screening room with a small platform of theater seats; “I want to see the dancers in the seats, and the audience moving around them.” Then she stops and looks up at a massive movable wall that divides the gallery’s main space. “If only we could make this move during the performance,” she says with a sigh, “the Space Odyssey monolith coming at you.” But two forklifts would be involved, which isn’t possible in a space crowded with people.

For Loewen, there is always a push-pull
between the imagined and the impossible, an ambitious vision that is often only partially
realized.

But ultimately, those moments of crisis are part of the creative charge, the “throw all the balls in the air” moments. “Everything is going on,” she says. “Nothing is going on. Nothing makes sense. I like saying, ‘OK, what am I going to do with this?’ It’s exciting and terrifying, but that’s what it’s about.”

Loewen’s creative life seems to have always been driven by the tension between aspiration and pragmatism. She grew up near Stevens Point and started making dances in high school (in an early piece, the dancers wore garbage-can lids on their feet). After moving between several colleges, she landed at the University of Illinois, where she found a like-minded group of composers and artists. From there, she taught and led a company at the University of Delaware, continuing to work outside of traditional spaces, then spent time in South America and a year or so in New York City. In the late ’70s, New York was a hotbed of experimental dance and theater, which might seem like a perfect fit for Loewen’s sensibility. She was part of the scene, and found a mentor in postmodern dance pioneer Robert Dunn.

“I liked working in New York,” she says, “but making work there is really hard if you don’t take that traditional path. I had to reconcile the desire to make things, and the silly hoops you need to jump through to get things done. Eventually, I didn’t feel it was right for what I wanted to do.”

Which brought her to Milwaukee, where she and her company have been an essential part of the city’s creative life for nearly three decades.

“Milwaukee continually inspires me,” she says. “There’s not a lot of ‘noise’ here. And there’s a work ethic people really dig into. Coming back to it again and again is really good.”

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This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.  For a gallery of photos from the magazine, click here. For our reader-submitted photos (or to submit your own), click here.  *   Getty Images. They were just back from a vacation Up North, a four-day trip to a resort near Minocqua, where Karen […]

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Milwaukee Magazine
For a gallery of photos from the magazine, click here.
For our reader-submitted photos (or to submit your own), click here.

 *

 
Getty Images.

They were just back from a vacation Up North, a four-day trip to a resort near Minocqua, where Karen and Ed Rudolph had kept a watchful eye out for wildlife. They were hoping to see a bald eagle or a wolf, maybe even a black bear lumbering through the dense majesty of the North Woods. But nothing. Not even a coyote.

But a day after returning to Port Washington, a surprise visitor showed up at their home on the bluffs of Lake Michigan. Karen was dozing in the family room when a commotion outside her window jolted her awake. “I opened my eyes and saw a police officer pointing up a tree,” she says. Twelve feet up, sitting stoically in a basswood right in her backyard, was a male black bear, all brute force and fur.

It was an odd scene, to say the least. The bear, presumably the same one that had been seen days before in Kewaskum and Fredonia, was moving southbound toward the Port Washington marina, where Pirate Fest 2010 was in full swing. Legions of revelers in black eye patches and three-pointed hats were swarming downtown to chug homemade grog, fire replica muskets and ride the tall ships.

Police, meanwhile, were in hot pursuit of Mr. Bear. “Unsuccessful attempts were made to turn the bear around and out of the residential area,” police reported. The last thing they needed was a black bear crashing the party at Pirate Fest.

They finally caught up with him in the Rudolphs’ yard, unsure what to do next. “I just want to let you know,” a police officer told Karen, “if he comes down from the tree, we might have to shoot him.”

Not on your life, she thought, and picked up the telephone. Within minutes, two TV news crews were at her front door, cameras rolling…

Native to Wisconsin, the American black bear once inhabited the entire state, north to south. Until recently, a bear was still a rare sight in southeastern Wisconsin, treated with celebrity status, a cuddly 300-pound photo op. But sightings are becoming more common.

A study for the state’s Department of Natural Resources estimates as many as 40,000 black bears now live in Wisconsin, a huge rise from the early 1980s, when there were fewer than 5,000. With a booming population Up North, and more and more humans invading their habitat – building summer cottages, retirement homes, water parks – the black bear is heading south, showing up in backyards from Port Washington to La Crosse to Mukwonago.

Also expanding is the gray wolf population, with loners drifting south from northern forests and grasslands. Some have been seen crossing Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Madison. The wolf once was nearly extinct, down to just over a dozen in the state in the mid-1980s. Added to the federal endangered species list in 1967 and illegal to hunt ever since, the wolf population now numbers around 825.

And it’s not only wolves and bears. Bobcats, coyotes and, of course, white-tailed deer – not to mention smaller mammals like foxes and the weasel-like fisher – are on the increase and creeping into the more urban, southern sections of the state.

“Animals are just moving in,” says Marty Johnson, a wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR. “The bear and wolf populations in northern Wisconsin are doing quite well. So we’re seeing young animals venturing out, seeking new territory.”

You’d have to be hibernating to not notice the wildlife in the metro area these days. Living near the Menomonee River, I’m accustomed to seeing red foxes scampering along hiking trails and deer lunching on hostas and potted daisies in my backyard. In May, as I biked along the Hank Aaron State Trail, I saw a family of Canada geese toddling beak-to-tail in a parking lot near Miller Park, while a hungry-looking coyote sat watching from a nearby bluff on the other side of a chain-link fence.

“In the ’60s, there weren’t many deer in the metro area. Now they’re all over. They’re adapting to the environment,” says Johnson, whose district includes Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. “There are turkeys nesting in River Hills, turkeys nesting in Northwestern Mutual’s courtyard.” Wild animals are migrating from northern and central forests into southeastern Wisconsin, where winters are milder, hunting is limited, and farm crops – not to mention garden salads – provide a steady food base.

Last year, a black bear was observed (and videotaped unceasingly) roaming the backyards of Waunakee, north of Madison, snacking on bird feeders and clambering on a swing set. Three years ago, a cougar in a northwest side neighborhood of Chicago drew an excitable crowd of TV crews and armed police, who tracked the wayward animal into an alleyway and fatally shot it. Wildlife experts speculated the 150-pound male cat had wandered east from the Black Hills to Wisconsin, then south to Chicago, coming within blocks of a grade school and sending residents into a panic.

A cougar in a Chicago alley. A bear near Madison. A coyote at Miller Park.

“I like to think of them as pioneers,” says Scott Diehl, wildlife manager at the Wisconsin Humane Society in Milwaukee. “The animals have no way of knowing what’s over the next hill. They’re testing new niches, looking for a suitable habitat.”

And that’s changing how we humans live.

 

Black Bears

Karen Rudolph’s backyard guest had drawn a crowd. Along with Port Washington’s mayor, police chief and fire department, dozens of rubberneckers filled the street in front of her house, hoping to catch a glimpse of the tree-bound beast. “It was a circus,” she says.

Officers with the DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service arrived with tranquilizer darts and a bear trap fitted on a trailer. Positioned safely away from the tree, they fired a dart into the bear. “Then we waited and waited and waited,” Rudolph says, “but he went up six feet higher to the next crotch in the tree.”

An inflatable cushion was placed beneath the tree and a second dart was fired. This time, the bear feel asleep. “Sound asleep,” she says. “So somebody climbed up a ladder and gave him a push. He fell away from the cushion and, plop, right on the ground.”

Wildlife biologists huddled around the fallen bear, pronounced him OK, then lifted him into the trap and drove away, returning him to the wilds of Oconto County.

“He was cutest thing,” Rudolph gushes. “I would have invited that bear in for tea.”

Black bears weren’t always considered cute. To Wisconsin’s early white settlers, they were noxious pests. “People put a price tag on the bear’s head, a bounty, to encourage people to kill as many bears as possible,” says Linda Olver, assistant bear biologist in the DNR’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. Fur traders of that era paid high prices for bearskins, logging operations cut down forests, and more and more settlers encroached into the black bear’s native habitat – all reducing the population.

The Wisconsin Conservation Department, forerunner of today’s DNR, “felt the downward trend in the population was not an acceptable fate for this magnificent animal,” Olver says. Between 1937 and 1942, the department released bear cubs into the wilds of Adams, Jackson, Wood and Door counties.

By the early 1980s, an estimated 5,000 black bears inhabited the state – few, if any, south of State Highway 64, the southern boundary of the state’s North Woods that stretches from Marinette to Hudson. In 1985, bear hunting season was closed after objections that the bear population was being overharvested. Since then, the state has controlled bear hunting: As the number of bears increased, the number of hunting permits increased, from 4,660 in 2008 to 9,005 in 2011.

The number of bears killed in 2008 during a 28-day season was 2,955, slightly more than half of the permit quota.

To precisely gauge the burgeoning bear population, the DNR in 2008 completed a first-of-its-kind population study using a model developed by UW-Madison. The study projected the number of bears to be between 26,000 and 40,000, nearly double what the DNR had originally estimated.

Bears have begun heading south, seeking more territory and food sources. Traveling up to 40 miles a day, they’ve followed the Wisconsin River and other forested corridors to rolling prairies and agricultural areas, often foraging on deer and a rich supply of farm crops along the way.

“There’s an interesting thing happening in southern Wisconsin,” says Tim Van Deelen, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at UW-Madison and a researcher on the bear study. “More working farms are becoming hobby farms. Fencerows get brushier, woodlots expand. More cover and reduced human activity makes the landscape more attractive for bears. They’re kind of playing hopscotch, moving from forest to forest or patch of cover to patch of cover.”

Bears in Waushara, Juneau, Sauk, Dane, Iowa, Vernon and Grant counties are finding habitat so suitable, they’re building dens and reproducing. “That’s pretty good evidence that they intend to be here, and we shouldn’t expect them to leave,” says the DNR’s Olver.

The estimated bear population in Zone C – an area south of Highway 64, encompassing nearly two-thirds of Wisconsin – increased from 700 in 1988 to 2,550 in 2010. Last year, the DNR recorded more than 200 black bear sightings in Zone C, from counties along the Mississippi River east to Washington, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Walworth and Waukesha counties. One bear, in a classic Winnie the Pooh moment, raided beehives near Mukwonago in September.

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Black bears are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat everything – fruit, nuts, berries, grass, fish, small mammals and crops. They’ve been particularly damaging to crops, livestock and beehives. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services received 1,301 bear complaints in Wisconsin. In response, wildlife officers relocated 606 bears – including 266 that had damaged crops.

The southerly dispersal of bears makes human encounters more likely. Bears are attracted to artificial food sources – greasy barbecue grills, dog food, garbage and compost piles. When an itinerant bear associates people with food, it can be aggressive in its attempt to get its paws on that food.

But unlike attacks by brown bears and grizzlies in the west, “attacks by black bears are very rare,” says Van Deelen. Nevertheless, humans should avoid cornering bears or getting between a female and her cubs, he says. When camping, don’t cook in your tent; store food in a vehicle or hang it from a tree.

“It’s a credit to the people of Wisconsin that we’re seeing an expansion of the black bear population. They’re fascinating and wonderful animals,” Van Deelen says. But he thinks humans are going to need to adjust to them.

“People in southern Wisconsin are going to have to learn to live with bears the same way people in northern Wisconsin do,” Van Deelen says. “I used to live near Tomahawk. I had bears in my yard all the time. It was part of the charm of living in the north.”

 

Gray Wolves

On a May morning, conservation biologist Ron Schultz scouts logging roads in the state and federal forests near Woodruff for signs of the gray wolf. Using surveys taken during the winter that recorded tracks in the snow, and looking for wolf scat for further evidence of inhabitance, he sets six or seven steel foothold traps in the dense forest.

Days later, Schultz returns to the traps, which have caught several wolves. He has a video camera strapped to his head and a plastic “jab stick” in his hands with a syringe filled with a powerful tranquilizer.

Schultz plays it very cagey: Using a second stick to distract the wolf, he finally jabs it with the loaded syringe, coming within four feet of the canine. With the wolf anesthetized, he removes the trap and fits a radio telemetry collar around its neck, treating any wounds to the wolf’s leg with an antibiotic and monitoring its heart rate and body temperature. Ten minutes later, the wolf awakens and slinks into the woods.

A scientist with the DNR’s Bureau of Endangered Resources, Schultz has been on the trap line since 1982, fitting wolves with radio collars to track their numbers and movements. “When I started 30 years ago we only had a dozen animals or so in the state,” he says. “I would glimpse a wolf once a year. Now, I will see a dozen or more.”

Wolves definitely are moving south, he says. One wolf fitted with a GPS was observed recently moving south through the Black River State Forest. Near Tomah, it spent a solid month trying to cross I-94. Eventually, the GPS signal showed it had made it to the other side.

Centuries before Europeans settled North America, gray wolves ran coast to coast, northern forest to southern desert. Revered by Native Americans, the wolf was seen as a menace by Europeans. Wisconsin settlers hunted the wolves’ prey and in 1865 placed a bounty on wolves that lasted until 1957, according to Adrian Wydeven, mammalian ecologist with the DNR in Park Falls. In 1950, there were fewer than 50 in the state. By 1985, just 14 remained.

The DNR launched an intensive recovery plan to save the wolf, and the population grew rapidly in the 1990s, Wydeven says, surpassing 800 this spring.

The majority of wolf packs reside in the state’s northern and central forests. But sightings classified as “probable” or “possible” have been recorded in 55 of the state’s 72 counties. Last year, a pack of nine was seen in Eau Claire County, while scattered sightings were reported in Dane, Iowa, Sauk, Columbia, Green Lake, Manitowoc, Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties, even as far south as Ozaukee, Washington, Walworth and Kenosha counties. Wolves have been struck by vehicles on U.S. Highway 45 and I-94.

Wolves are larger than coyotes or bobcats and similar in size to large dogs. In Wisconsin, a male wolf averages 75 to 80 pounds, a female, 60 to 65 pounds, considerably smaller than wolves in Western states that feed on larger animals such as elk, caribou and bison. Born into packs (typically four to five animals), wolves are categorized into two types: “biders,” those who stay with their pack after reaching adulthood, and “dispersers,” those who join a new pack or start their own. Sometimes, a disperser or loner will travel hundreds of miles to join or start a new pack. “They will drive hard to find suitable habitat that’s similar to their original habitat,” says Wydeven.

Unlike the image of the mischievous black bear, the gray wolf is seen as frightening, a ferocious, almost supernatural killer. “Everybody grew up hugging teddy bears and hearing the story of the Big Bad Wolf,” says Dave MacFarland, a furbearing animal research scientist with the DNR’s Rhinelander office. “There are a number of reasons why people get more passionate about wolves than other animals.”

While the number of wolves is miniscule compared to bears and coyotes, they’re seen as competition to hunters. And attacks by wolf packs on livestock and pet dogs give the wolf a vicious, bloodthirsty reputation.

In the view of some sportsmen’s groups, wolves have enjoyed years of unfair protection by the state and federal governments. In a legal tug of war spanning more than three decades, the gray wolf has been added, removed, and added again to threatened and endangered species lists.

To preserve the wolf, Wisconsin in 1999 devised a management plan, setting a recovery goal of 350 wolves. Today, with the population reaching a modern-day record of more than 800 in 200 packs, efforts are moving ahead to delist the wolf. In April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a plan to remove the gray wolf from endangered species lists in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, giving states the authority to allow public hunts.

In 2010, 47 Wisconsin farms reported wolf attacks on livestock (cattle, lambs, sheep), up from 28 farms the year before. The state reimbursed farmers $113,586. But by comparison, payouts in 2009 due to damage by bears totaled $164,755, and deer damage cost $1.5 million.

Also last year, wolves killed 24 dogs and injured 14 more. On the other side of the ledger, 72 wolves were found dead, including 14 killed illegally by a gunshot or bow.

The Humane Society of the United States has repeatedly fought delisting and opposes public hunting. “It’s taken many, many years for the population to grow in Wisconsin,” says Howard Goldman, the Humane Society’s Minnesota director who also sits on the Wisconsin Wolf Stakeholders advisory group. With “effective wolf management” – the use of fencing and guard dogs, continued compensation to farmers, and the natural winnowing process of the wolf population, including deaths from disease – the numbers will stabilize, he says.

In Minnesota, the population of wolves has leveled off to about 2,900. “It’s been stable for several years,” he says. The growth of Michigan’s wolf population – also protected – has slowed in the past five years as well. While wolves move frequently back and forth between Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, the Mississippi River and Lake Superior restrict movement between Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada.

Even with more wolves prowling the forests, their threat to humans is small, says wolf expert Wydeven. There have been no attacks on a human since the return of the wolf population, he says. An Alaskan biologist evaluated 100 years of North American data that went back to the late 1800s, including some 80 reports of human encounters with wolves. Only 16 resulted in attacks, Wydeven says. Two Inuit people in Alaska died of rabies after they were bitten.

Since then, he says, only two killings have been documented – a man in a mining camp in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 2005, and a teacher in Alaska who encountered four half-starved wolves in 2010.

Deer hunters, though, have no love for the long-protected wolf. “There has to be a change,” says Mark Toso, president of the Wisconsin Deer Hunters Association. “They attack dogs and people. You’ve got to have some kind of control.”

The numbers tell a different story, says Wydeven. Every year, each Wisconsin wolf kills about 20 deer – 16,000 to 17,000 total. “They’re not depleting the deer herd [estimated at 1.5 million in 2010], he says. “There’s still a healthy population.” That’s why the DNR has introduced programs to expand the seasonal deer harvest and reduce the herd – programs such as the unpopular Earn-A-Buck, which requires hunters to shoot an antlerless deer (which are far more numerous) before they can kill a buck.

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Hunter and DNR, outdoorsman and wildlife conservationist – this clash of cultures plays out frequently Up North.

“There’s two groups of people up here,” says Otto Scharpf, 74, a Brookfield expatriate who lives year-round with his wife Kay on Franklin Lake, east of Eagle River. “A lot of the locals who have grown up here, they’re hunters,” Otto says. Some won’t think twice about killing a wolf and burying its carcass. “ ‘Shoot, shovel and shut up,’ is their mantra,” he continues. “I never was a hunter, so I have more of a city viewpoint.”

The Scharpfs have owned their North Woods cabin for 40 years. “You hear stories here,” Otto says. “One guy said a wolf came at him. His daughter had a rifle and shot the wolf in self-defense. This was north of Highway 70 in Alvin. Frankly, I don’t believe the story. I’ve never seen a wolf running at a person.”

The Scharpfs are happy to share their Franklin Lake habitat with wild animals. “We saw a wolf cross the road a few years ago,” Otto says. “Saw a bobcat last fall. We’re seeing a lot more black bears too. And people are afraid of them, though there’s no reason to be. In fact, there’s no reason to be afraid of wolves. We kind of like wolves. We found prints in the sand. It’s kind of neat.”

But Scharpf’s son-in-law, Ken Adamovich, a hunter and a logger, sees wildlife from a different perspective. He was born and raised in Eagle River, but when the town’s population reached 1,500 in 2004, he and his wife moved north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the number of human residents is actually declining.

“I log for a living, so I’m in the woods every day,” he says. “We do need to watch what we’re doing to our environment. But what bothers me most about the wolf thing is the extremists. Once they get their foot in the door, they never let up.”

Hunting of wolves should be allowed, Adamovich believes. “There’s too many. I’ve seen them on logging jobs, we’ve seen them by our house. A wolf, I don’t think he ever feels threatened. They’ll watch you as much as you watch them. I’ve never seen one run from me yet.”

In his years of trapping, biologist Ron Schultz has never been bitten by a wolf, he says. “People don’t know wolves. If I’m setting traps, a wolf will be watching me. A normal person would say it’s stalking me, but it’s not. It’s watching me because I’ve trapped another one in its pack.”

It’s the fairytales that have given wolves a bad image, says Schultz: “That’s still stuck in people’s minds. Bears don’t look vicious. They don’t open their mouths and show teeth. They don’t show any signs of what they’re thinking. But I’ve had a bear caught in a trap swat at me.

“I wouldn’t trust a bear as much as I’d trust a wolf,” he continues. “I don’t even think about wolves bothering me.”

 

Bobcats and Coyotes

Twice the size of the average house cat, with long, bushy sideburns, spiky ears and a stubby white-tipped tail, the bobcat is a native Wisconsin species that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Unlike the wolf or other big cats such as the cougar (also known as the mountain lion or puma), the bobcat is typecast as cute and harmless, a graceful Felix figure that might make a lovable family pet.

But think again. With scissor teeth and dagger claws, the carnivorous bobcat can take down animals as large as a deer (though they tend to live on a diet of rabbits, mice, squirrels and porcupine). And like other large mammals, they are under pressure in the North Woods and moving south.

The bobcat was open to bounty hunting and nearly exterminated until hunting regulations were established in 1970. Today, populations are kept in check by management and regulated hunting and trapping, but only north of Highway 64. South of the northern zone, bobcats are protected.

Through the 1990s, the number of bobcats in Wisconsin numbered about 1,500. The DNR now projects the population to be 2,300 north of Highway 64, the only area where winter track surveys are taken. Hunters and trappers took 207 in 2009 with state-issued permits. While most bobcats are taken as trophy kills, some are trapped for their pelts.

A map of bobcat sightings from 2005 through 2010 shows clusters along the Wisconsin River, with sightings in the past two years in Milwaukee and Racine counties. “We’ve seen an expansion of bobcats south, and the expansion is continuing,” says the DNR’s MacFarland.

But bobcat problems are few, he says. “Occasionally, you have a bobcat that finds a chicken coop, but compared to bears, they’re really negligible. They’re wary. They don’t bother people. You don’t see them much.”

Coyotes are another story. Larger than foxes and bobcats, with thick fur, thin legs, a bushy tail and a narrow muzzle, they roam with abandon, often oblivious to humans.

“They’re fairly common throughout the state,” says Marty Johnson, DNR wildlife biologist. So common, in fact, that the DNR hasn’t done any estimates. And so common that wildlife experts have estimated there are at least 2,000 living in the city of Chicago and some 75,000 in South Dakota. With hunting and trapping prohibited in the Milwaukee metro area, and few predators to control the population, the coyote has it pretty easy. “We’ve seen an increase in Wisconsin,” says Johnson.

You don’t have to look too hard to see them. While writing this article, on two afternoons I looked out the window of my Wauwatosa home to see a coyote trot across the front yard and disappear into the woods along the Menomonee River.

“Coyotes are a very adaptive species,” says Lawrence Leitner, principal biologist with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. “They can coexist with us very comfortably.” They’re hardy in winter and food sources are abundant, a worry to pet owners. Cats and small dogs are especially vulnerable.

But coyotes pose little danger to humans. “In Wisconsin, we have not had an incident of a coyote attacking a person,” Johnson says.

A nocturnal animal, coyotes can thrive in large city environments. Over the past decade, Stan Gehrt, an Ohio State University research biologist, has headed the Cook County Coyote Project, trapping and fitting 498 coyotes with radio transmitters, and tracking their movements through Chicagoland. It’s the largest such study ever done. Gehrt says urban coyotes survive far longer than their rural cousins and help control the Canada geese population.

“We couldn’t find an area in Chicago where there weren’t coyotes,” he told an Ohio newspaper. “They’ve learned to exploit all parts of their landscape.”

Their movements have been recorded regularly off Chicago’s South Loop and at Navy Pier, he says. One was filmed running along downtown State Street. One was rescued by city crews after being stranded on a Lake Michigan ice floe. And four years ago, on a hot summer day, a coyote walked leisurely into a Quiznos sub shop during lunchtime. The wily critter climbed into a soft-drink cooler for relief as customers clicked away on cell phone cameras.

The Quiznos coyote illustrates the sometimes awkward balance when humans and wild animals share an ecosystem. “It’s important to understand how we humans impact these creatures,” says Scott Diehl of the Wisconsin Humane Society. “It’s human activity and changes to the habitat.”

Ring-billed gulls, for instance, historically nested on isolated beaches on gravel-covered islands, says Diehl. Now, as city inhabitants, they’ve become attracted to gravel-topped roofs. A few years ago, managers of Milwaukee’s downtown Frontier Airlines Center noticed hundreds of gulls nesting on the rooftop, directly beneath the intake vents of the building’s air-conditioning units. The pungent smell of the gulls’ waste was sucked inside, causing would-be convention groups to reconsider their booking plans. The Humane Society came up with an idea: Install a network of crisscrossing wires on the rooftop to deter the birds from landing and nesting. The following year, no gulls.

Meanwhile, as Wisconsin’s wildlife moves south, there’s also evidence of a reverse trend, says John Olson of the state’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.

“We’ve experienced raccoons moving so far north that they’re now in southern Canada, where native peoples have no word in their language to describe a raccoon. And these peoples have been there for thousands of years,” he says. “We’ve also seen an expansion northward of opossum and gray fox, species rarely seen in northern Wisconsin.”

The reason, Olson says, can be traced to the 1980s and ’90s, when mild weather patterns in the region resulted in moderate temperatures and a lack of snow depths, possibly due to global climate change.

It has usually taken decades, sometimes centuries, for habitats to shift and animal populations to shrink, expand and recolonize in new territories. “And we’re seeing this in our lifetime,” he says.

For Schultz, as he traps animals, the change is evident day by day. “When I see these wolves and where they’ve been, it’s hard to believe,” he says. “It’s the same with bears,” he adds, in a sentiment that would surely be seconded by Karen Rudolph. “Sometimes, you’d be surprised where they’re hanging out.”

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Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose Director: Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) Running Time: 1 hr 41 min Release Date: Oct. 16, 2009 Budget: $100 million Average Critics’ Score: 73% “…one of the year’s best.” Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly “…depressive and shaggy and tired.” Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com Based on Maurice Sendak’s […]




Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose
Director: Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich)
Running Time: 1 hr 41 min
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2009
Budget: $100 million
Average Critics’ Score: 73%


“…one of the year’s best.” Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly


“…depressive and shaggy and tired.” Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com


Based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, this wildly imaginative tale is as emotionally rich as it is visually striking. Max (the wonderfully emotive Records) is an alienated, creative 9-year-old who escapes the troubles of the world when he stumbles upon a fantasy world inhabited by lively but equally complex Wild Things. Not only are the 9 ½-foot-tall odd-looking monsters (created from puppets and computer-generated images) so extraordinarily expressive, they are fleshed out with touching dialogue and voice performances. The parallel lives of Max and the Wild Things offer a smart, reflective commentary on losing childhood innocence and grappling with life’s harsh realities, and the melancholy music is strongly affecting.


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