Wisconsin Natural Resources Board unanimously approves controversial wolf management plan
Wednesday was a long day for members of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board. It listened to several hours’ worth of opinions — passionate and varied — about a proposed wolf management plan.
It replaces a years’ old plan with some significant changes.
Instead of capping a target population of 350 wolves, the new plan drops a number altogether and instead considers factors including the latest science and how wolves are impacting livestock and pets.
That’s just one of the controversial elements supported by some residents and organizations and rejected by others.
Right now the gray wolf is under federal protection.
Over the years it’s bounced back and forth from endangered status to being managed by the Wisconsin DNR.
Whenever that happens, the agency must, under state law, hold an annual hunting season. There have been four: 2012 to 2014 and most recently in 2021.
The DNR says the new management plan it crafted is the framework the agency will need when Wisconsin is again allowed to assume management.
The Natural Resources Board reportedly has gotten a lot of feedback on the proposal, including 391 pages of written comments.
Jennifer Giegerich with Wisconsin Conservation Voters was one of the 40 people who commented in person before the board Wednesday.
“This is not a perfect plan, but I think it has some very important elements. Number one I think having a nonnumerical population goal is really important that gives the DNR flexibility to deal with all the situations in the landscape but also gives them flexibility to deal with all the various needs with all the stakeholders,” she says.
But Giegerich believes the plan doesn’t go far enough in its consideration of the state’s tribal nations.
“We take very seriously the collaboration with the tribal nations, so we would support efforts to have zero harvest quotas within appropriate radiuses of their reservations,” Giegerich says.
Mike Brust with the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association told the board there’s nothing about the plan he supports.
“The sports people of the state — not the tribes, not the animal rights activists, not the anti hunters — financed the reestablishment of a viable wolf population in Wisconsin, based on specific conditions and promises which have been systematically and consistently broken by our DNR,” Brust says.
In the end, the board unanimously approved the plan with one small tweak.
It came from Douglas Cox, a member of the Menominee Tribe, and one of four brand new Natural Resources Board members.
“I’d like to make a motion for an amendment to the subzone 1B that would allow for stopping harvest at two in certain areas within that subzone,” Cox says.
It’s a confusing point, but when Wisconsin again takes charge of wolf management, the amendment might reduce the chance that a whole pack would be eliminated in a single hunting season.
The board also voted on several wolf management rules, including one everyone agreed on — hunters must let the DNR know within eight hours when they’ve harvested a wolf.
“For previous wolf season’s (and) for all other species, it’s 5 pm the day after harvest. So we feel it’s important to get that information quicker, to make decisions about closing a zone,” explains Scott Karel with the Wisconsin DNR.
Multiple board members, including another new member Todd Ambs, questioned another provision. It allows hunting wolves after dark. That was not part of the 2012, 13 or 14 seasons, but was added during Wisconsin’s most recent hunt in 2021.
Large carnivore specialist Randy Johnson says, “It’s growing in popularity, just the sport of hunting predators after dark.”
Todd Ambs is new to the board but not to Wisconsin’s wolf debate. He was deputy director of the DNR in 2021, a period during which the wolf was delisted and once again under state management. The subsequent, hastily-prepared hunting season exceeded its quota by over 80%.
Ambs doesn’t want to see that debacle repeated.
“We were ordered by a court to have a hunt and we had four days to get ready and that all led to what happened in February 2021. I absolutely believe that having this science-based, 21st century approach in terms of the plan and the rule is how we demonstrate that the state is actually prepared to do responsible management if and when a delisting occurs,” Ambs says.
According to the Wisconsin DNR that could happen as soon as next February.