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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

From wolf management to internal politics, Wisconsin natural resources board meeting covers it all

Screenshot from Wis DNR livestream meeting
Randy Johnson with Wisconsin DNR delivers wolf population report at the Sept. 28 Natural Resources Board meeting.

The board that oversees the state’s department of natural resources met in northern Wisconsin Wednesday, where conversations took both anticipated and unanticipated twists.

It included a walk through the latest data on Wisconsin’s wolf population by Randy Johnson with the DNR.

“The key results, the overwinter 2021-2022 wolf population abundance was estimated as between 812 and 1193, with the model indicating approximately 972 wolves as the most likely estimate,” Johnson said.

This chart summarizes the Wisconsin DNR's estimated wolf count for winter 2021-2022.
Screenshot from Wis DNR livestream meeting
This chart summarizes the Wisconsin DNR's estimated wolf count for winter 2021-2022.

The state’s relationship with the apex predator is complex. Once all but wiped from the landscape, the DNR spent years building up its numbers.

In recent years the wolf has flip-flopped between being on the endangered species list signaling federal protection to being stable and under Wisconsin management.

State law requires that a harvest or hunt occur when that happens. The most recent in February 2021 was also the most controversial. It happened on the heels of another delisting and took place during the wolves' mating season.

Some people thought this would dramatically impact the wolves' numbers.

READ Wisconsin Hunters Exceed Wolf Target By Nearly 100 Animals

Johnson’s report seemed to abate those fears. “There are several biological indicators that continue to indicate that the Wisconsin wolf population is healthy, biologically secure in the state,” Johnson reported.

Several board members, including Frederick Prehn, were pleased with this news. “Complex science, presented well,” Prehn said.

Marcy West speaking at a Wisconsin DNR meeting in August.
Screenshot from Wis DNR livestream meeting
Marcy West speaking at a Wisconsin DNR meeting in August.

Prehn’s been receiving his own share of pushback. He refused to give up his seat on the Natural Resources Board, a move backed up by a state supreme court decision last summer.

At the close of Wednesday’s meeting, fellow board member Marcy West gave an impassioned critique of Prehn’s refusal to leave. She said Prehn is jeopardizing the ability of the DNR to do its job and the board’s job to oversee it.

“Your decision is not yours alone, it has a ripple effect,” West said.

West said she refrained from speaking publicly about her concern, until she read a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article earlier this week. The article discussed a lawsuit in Madison circuit from environmental law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Midwest Environmental Advocates filed this brief on Sept. 23 and Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell is slated to hear oral arguments Nov. 16.

READ Environmental group presses for closer scrutiny after conservative holdover can stay on DNR board

The advocacy group argues Prehn is violating public record law by refusing to release text messages with politicians and lobbyists about his refusal to step down from the board.

“The texts that are revealed in that article are not funny,” West said.

Prehn’s simple response after West’s outpouring sounded almost dismissive. “Don’t believe everything you read,” Prehn said.

The gray wolf is again under federal protection, but Wisconsin’s DNR secretary said his team is drafting a management plan in anticipation of endangered status being lifted.

The health of the state’s Natural Resources Board appears less certain.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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