They aren’t ac­tively try­ing to harm you, but you’d be wise to keep your eyes out for these five kinds of crit­ters when you’re out­side this sum­mer

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Paul A. Smith Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – WIS.

This sum­mer Wis­con­sin will be home to more than 30,000 black bears, 1,000 gray wolves and even a moun­tain lion or two.

All told, the den­sity of toothy, hairy, wild preda­tors in the

Badger State is among the high­est in the na­tion.

It’s enough to raise the hack­les on hu­mans when they ven­ture out­doors.

“I’ll ad­mit I some­times talk out loud or clear my throat when com­ing up to a corner,” said Jim Hughes, 62, of Wauwatosa, who has of­ten en­coun­tered bears when jog­ging and bik­ing on trails and roads near his cabin in Wis­con­sin’s North­woods near Lake­wood. “It’s far more com­mon to see bears now than 40 years ago.”

And two re­cent wildlife-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties in the U.S. — caused by a cougar in

Wash­ing­ton and an al­li­ga­tor in Florida — have ratch­eted up the anx­i­ety of some.

It raises the ques­tions: What are the lead­ing wild an­i­mal threats to Wis­con­sin-

And how can we re­duce the risks?

Here’s one of the first things to ac­knowl­edge in any dis­cus­sion of wildlife dan­ger to hu­mans: per­cep­tion of­ten over­shad­ows re­al­ity.

“We are pro­grammed to fear some­thing big and pow­er­ful, no doubt about it,” said Dan Hirchert, Wis­con­sin direc­tor of APHIS Wildlife Ser­vices for the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. “But in­juries from large wild an­i­mal at­tacks on hu­mans in Wis­con­sin are very rare.”

In fact, no fa­tal at­tack by a wild bear, wolf or cougar on a hu­man in Wis­con­sin has been recorded in more than 100 years, ac­cord­ing to the USDA.

For the lead­ing threats to hu­man health, think smaller.

Hughes, who has been trav­el­ing to the Che­quamegon-Ni­co­let Na­tional For­est for more than six decades, pro­vides a good ex­am­ple. He spends about 100 days a year with his wife, Mary, at their cabin near Lake­wood.

“The first thing we do when we come in is do a tick check on us, the boys and the dog,” Hughes said.

The be­hav­ior, Hughes said, was passed along from his mother. None of Hughes’ fam­ily, in­clud­ing the ca­nine mem­bers, has been di­ag­nosed with a tick-re­lated dis­ease.

The wis­dom of a mother in this case is price­less. When it comes to mit­i­gat­ing risks from Wis­con­sin crit­ters, it’s vi­tal to avoid bites from things that crawl and fly.

In fact, only one other be­hav­ior is likely more im­por­tant: vig­i­lance on the road­ways.

White-tailed deer, a prey species, is a far greater threat to hu­man safety than all the wild preda­tors com­bined.

Here’s a list of wildlife risks to hu­mans in Wis­con­sin and ways to avoid them:


With more than 1.3 mil­lion deer in Wis­con­sin this sum­mer, the hand­some state wildlife an­i­mal poses the lead­ing risk to hu­man health. And it’s not be­cause the bucks want to rub their vel­vet on us.

The dan­ger oc­curs as hu­mans and deer in­ter­sect on state road­ways. In 2017, nine peo­ple were killed in deer-re­lated crashes in Wis­con­sin. The ac­ci­dents are par­tic­u­larly deadly to mo­tor­cy­clists. Last year, six of the fa­tal­i­ties in­volved mo­tor­bikes.

And from 15 per­cent to 20 per­cent of deer/ve­hi­cle crashes re­sult in at least some in­jury to the hu­man, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

In 2016, State Farm placed the odds of a hu­man/ deer col­li­sion in the Badger State at 1 in 77.

State law en­force­ment agen­cies re­ported 19,976 deer vs. mo­tor ve­hi­cle crashes in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the DOT. The ac­tual num­ber is much higher as many mo­torists choose not to re­port such col­li­sions.

So how to avoid hit­ting a deer? Ac­cord­ing to the DOT: Brake firmly when you no­tice a deer in or near your path, and (if in a car or truck) don’t swerve or veer out of your lane; be es­pe­cially vig­i­lant in early morn­ing and even­ing hours when deer are most ac­tive; slow down and elim­i­nate dis­trac­tions, and when one deer ap­pears, look for more.


Bit­ing in­sects are found in all 72 Wis­con­sin counites? ties and can trans­mit dis­eases as read­ily in sub­ur­ban back­yards as in re­mote ar­eas.

Mos­qui­toes are a pri­mary vec­tor for dis­eases, in­clud­ing West Nile virus, a rel­a­tively re­cent but se­ri­ous ar­rival in Wis­con­sin.

In 2017, four Wis­con­sinites died of West Nile, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics kept by the state Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices.

Mos­qui­toes also trans­mit La Crosse en­cephali­tis and Powas­san virus in­fec­tions in Wis­con­sin.

To re­duce the risk from mos­quito bites, state health of­fi­cials rec­om­mend us­ing in­sect re­pel­lent, wear­ing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and shoes, and tak­ing mea­sures such as re­pair­ing win­dow screens and keep­ing doors closed so the in­sects can’t en­ter liv­ing spa­ces.


When it comes to loath­some crit­ters, noth­ing beats ticks, in­clud­ing the black-legged (or deer) tick and the Amer­i­can dog (wood) tick com­monly found in Wis­con­sin.

The small, blood-suck­ing an­i­mals pass along a host of life-threat­en­ing and life-al­ter­ing dis­eases to hu­mans.

Lyme dis­ease is the high­est-re­ported tick-borne ill­ness in Wis­con­sin, but num­bers for other con­di­tions — in­clud­ing babesio­sis, ehrli­chio­sis, anaplas­mo­sis and spot­ted fever rick­ettsio­sis — are in­creas­ing, ac­cord­ing to state health sta­tis­tics.

There were 1,491 con­firmed cases of Lyme dis­ease in Wis­con­sin in 2016, the last year of data avail­able from the Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices.

To re­duce the risk of tick bites, state health of­fi­cials rec­om­mend avoid­ing wooded and bushy ar­eas with high grass and lots of leaf lit­ter; us­ing ef­fec­tive tick re­pel­lents such as 20 per­cent-30 per­cent DEET on ex­posed skin and cloth­ing; wear­ing long sleeves, long pants and long socks to keep ticks on the out­side of cloth­ing (light-col­ored cloth­ing will help you spot ticks); tuck­ing shirts into pants and pants into shoes or socks to keep ticks on the out­side of cloth­ing; per­form­ing daily tick checks af­ter be­ing out­doors, and im­me­di­ately re­mov­ing at­tached ticks with fine-tipped tweez­ers.

See a doc­tor if the tick wasn’t re­moved com­pletely or if you de­velop a rash or fever within sev­eral weeks of re­mov­ing a tick.

Bees, wasps and hor­nets

These rel­a­tively large fly­ing in­sects are also found widely across the state.

A sting from one typ­i­cally re­sults in lo­cal­ized pain and swelling. But some peo­ple also have a se­vere al­ler­gic re­ac­tion, in­clud­ing ana­phy­lac­tic shock, that can be fa­tal.

A Wash­ing­ton Post anal­y­sis of gov­ern­ment data be­tween 2001 and 2013 found bees, wasps and hor­nets killed an av­er­age of 58 peo­ple an­nu­ally in the U.S.

The state Health Depart­ment did not have fig­ures spe­cific to such stings in Wis­con­sin.

In­sect re­pel­lents do not work against bees, wasps and hor­nets. To avoid stings it’s rec­om­mended to limit work or play near known nests and not leave soda cans or other con­tain­ers of sweet liq­uids out in places where they might at­tract the in­sects.

Bears, wolves and cougars

The threats to hu­mans from Wis­con­sin’s largest wild preda­tors are, sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, ex­tremely low.

The last recorded in­jury to a hu­man from a bear was in June 2017 when a man sus­tained a bite to the thigh in Florence County.

“Most of these bear/hu­man in­ter­ac­tions are a re­sult of dog/bear in­ter­ac­tion and the hu­man rushes in to save their dog,” said USDA’s Hirchert. “An ac­tual preda­tory ac­tion to­wards a hu­man from a bear is ex­tremely rare in Wis­con­sin.”

There has been no wolf or cougar at­tack on a hu­man in Wis­con­sin in mod­ern his­tory, ac­cord­ing to USDA records.

That said, the big an­i­mals right­fully elicit an abun­dance of cau­tion.

In two cases this year, the state Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources is­sued warn­ings about bears and wolves that ex­hib­ited un­usual be­hav­ior in north­ern Wis­con­sin.

If con­fronted by a bear, wolf or cougar in Wis­con­sin, wildlife ex­perts first rec­om­mend not ap­proach­ing the an­i­mal.

If the an­i­mal moves to­ward you, speak in a loud voice or yell at it, wave your arms and make your­self ap­pear large. If the an­i­mal con­tin­ues to ap­proach, throw ob­jects at it or get a weapon, but do not run.

State rules al­low lethal force against wildlife if the an­i­mal en­dan­gers hu­man life.

“We take all risks to hu­man safety se­ri­ously and are con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing bears and other wildlife, and re­mov­ing them if nec­es­sary,” Hirchert said. “But I per­son­ally think it’s smart to re­mem­ber the lit­tle things that can bite and the deer on the road, too.”


Wis­con­sin has no record of how many stings from bees, wasps and hor­nets have been fa­tal.


Mid­dle: Mos­qui­toes can carry West Nile virus.


Top: Small deer ticks can spread Lyme dis­ease.


Bot­tom: Nine peo­ple were killed in Wis­con­sin in deer-re­lated crashes in 2017.

Gray wolves have in­creased to a record level in Wis­con­sin, yet white-tailed deer pop­u­la­tions in north­ern Wis­con­sin are also in­creas­ing. The trends help point out that hu­man hunt­ing and se­vere win­ter weather are the pri­mary driv­ers of deer pop­u­la­tions in Wis­con­sin.


Bear at­tacks in Wis­con­sin are rare.

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