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Wisconsin DNR proposes kill quota of 130 wolves for hunt that is set to begin in November

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel logo Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 7/30/2021 Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Just five months after a rushed, court-ordered hunting and trapping season led to the killing of 218 gray wolves in Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources has proposed a statewide quota of 130 wolves for another season this fall.

The plan for the unprecedented second public wolf harvest in the same calendar year is clouded by uncertainty over wolf reproduction in the spring and highlights ongoing controversies over the state’s management of the species.

“I think 130 is too high given the unknowns we have out there,” said Adrian Wydeven, a retired DNR wolf biologist and a member of the conservation group Wisconsin’s Green Fire. 

Get daily updates on the Packers during the season.

The DNR’s quota proposal is scheduled to be considered by the Natural Resources Board at its Aug. 11 meeting in Milwaukee. The seven-member citizen board, which sets policy for the DNR, could approve it as is or modify it.

The proposal was released Thursday by the agency as final plans take shape for the state’s next wolf hunting and trapping season. The season is scheduled to begin Nov. 6.

State law requires the DNR to hold a wolf season when the species is not listed on the endangered or threatened list. 

Michigan and Minnesota have healthy wolf populations but no such laws. Officials in those states have declined to hold wolf hunting or trapping seasons this year.

The wolf was removed in January from protections of the federal Endangered Species Act. Although the DNR, backed by an NRB vote, planned to wait until November to hold a wolf season, a lawsuit forced the agency to offer one in late February.

State-licensed hunters and trappers were allotted a quota of 119 wolves for the February season, with 81 animals reserved for Native American tribes.

The kill of 218 wolves in less than three days exceeded the state-licensed quota by 83%.

The DNR is taking steps to tighten up controls to avoid blowing past the quotas, including shorter time windows for reporting kills, but the new rules have yet to be approved.

More: Wolf management in Wisconsin has become confusing, rushed and even more contentious. How did we get here?

More: Illegal wolf killings smear image of hunting

Keith Warnke, DNR administrator of fish, wildlife and parks, stated in April the agency’s objective for the fall 2021 wolf hunting and trapping season is “no substantive change to the wolf population until a new wolf management plan has been approved.”

The DNR has begun work to update the plan, but it won’t be finished until 2022 at the earliest. 

According to the DNR’s latest wolf population estimate, the state had 1,136 wolves before the controversial season in late February. The number represented a 5% decline from the previous winter.

However, the agency did not produce a post-hunt wolf population estimate.

After the registered kill of 218 wolves, and an unknown number of unreported kills, the state’s wolf population is undoubtedly lower than it was a year ago, Wydeven said.

Wolf reproduction was compromised this spring, too, due to breeding females killed during the February season and disruption of packs.

Wildlife-advocacy groups have cited the February Wisconsin wolf season in their calls to have the species returned to federal protections. A lawsuit seeking to place the wolf back on the endangered list also has been filed in a California court.

Opinions vary greatly over wolf management in Wisconsin.

Some, including American Indians who view the wolf as a brother and biologists who point to the ecological value of the species, advocate for higher wolf numbers.

Others, including many deer hunters and livestock producers, would prefer to see the wolf population greatly reduced and have called on the DNR to manage wolves to the population goal of 350 stated in the state’s 1999 wolf plan.

The most recent scientific study of public attitudes in the state, conducted in 2014, found most residents supported at least the number of wolves found at the time.

However, despite many calls to update the work as the wolf population increased from 2015 to 2020, the DNR has not repeated a social science study of Wisconsinites’ views on the species.

The DNR noted a long list of uncertainties in its proposal for the 130 quota, including its inability to perform wolf monitoring following the February season as well the unknown impact the late winter hunting and trapping activity had on wolf reproduction.

Still, the agency called the 130 quota conservative and said its objective for the fall season is “a harvest that maintains the long term sustainability of the population.”

In the four previous regulated Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping seasons (2012, 2013, 2014 and 2021) the Natural Resources Board approved the kill quotas as presented by the DNR. 

The board took the unusual action of doubling the number of tags issued for the short season last February, a move that intensified hunting and trapping pressure and fueled the overage.

Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin, which have court-affirmed rights to resources in the Ceded Territory, essentially the northern two-thirds of the state, could claim up to 50% of the wolf quota in that area.

On Friday the tribes had no official comment on their plans.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin DNR proposes kill quota of 130 wolves for hunt that is set to begin in November

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