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Wolf Hunt Approved In Wisconsin As Legal Fight Continues

After a back and forth legal battle, beginning next week, Wisconsin will hold a week long wolf hunt.

Wisconsin's wolf hunt will begin next week with up to 200 animals to be harvested, the state Department of Natural Resources Board determined at a hastily called meeting Monday in reaction to a court order requiring a hunt this month.

The unanimous board vote came even as the state was asking an appeals court to stop the hunt by putting last week's court order on hold. The state Department of Natural Resources and the board, represented by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, filed the motion Friday in state appeals court.

The Jefferson County judge's ruling from last week required the DNR to establish a wolf hunting and trapping season this month. The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty brought the lawsuit on behalf of Hunter Nation Inc., a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group.

Wisconsin law required there to be a wolf hunting season from early November through the end of February if the wolf is not on the endangered or threatened species list. It was removed from the federal endangered species list on Jan. 4.

The Wisconsin DNR board refused at a Jan. 22 meeting to start a hunt before November of this year, but the judge last week ordered that the hunt be implemented this month. Republican state lawmakers raised concerns that President Joe Biden might restore protections for the wolves before November.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks division administrator Keith Warnke laid out the plan.

“The application period for harvest permits will begin [Tuesday] at 12:01 am and close Saturday, February 20 at 11:59 pm. Customers who win in the drawing will be able to view the results on February 22,” said Warnke. “Drawing winners can begin hunting and trapping when they have purchased their license and printed their carcass tag.”

Results of a drawing for the 4,000 permits will be available on Feb. 22 and the winners will be able to hunt and trap as soon as they purchase their license and print their carcass tag.

Credit Screenshot
A presentation slide on how Wisconsin would set quotas during the upcoming wolf hunt.

The board voted to limit the number of wolves that can be killed during the seven-day hunt to 200. That limit was reached after considering the most recent wolf population estimate, the public response to wolf seasons conducted in 2012-2014, population models, the current management plan and other scientific data. During the previous three years of the hunt, 117 wolves were killed in 2012, 257 in 2013 and 154 in 2004 before a federal court returned the wolves to the endangered species list. Each of the state's previous three wolf hunts lasted two months.

According to DNR estimates, the number of wolves in the state has grown from 815 in 2012 to 1,034 last year. The DNR estimates 256 packs roamed the state in 2020.

The DNR staff recommended 2,000 permits be issued, but the board expanded it to 4,000 noting how compressed the season would be.

“We have a very short window here to reach those harvest goals and objectives," said board member Greg Kazmierski. Even with 4,000 permits, there will only be one hunter for every 4 miles of wolf habitat, he said.

“There was some concern from some people there would be a wolf hunter behind every tree, but that’s certainly not the case," Kazmierski said.

Credit Screenshot
The Wisconsin DNR board taking the pledge of allegiance before their Monday meeting on implementing a wolf hunt later this February.

Written comments in response to the hunt were accepted in advance, but no public comments were allowed during the meeting. When the issue was considered by the board in January, more than 1,400 written comments were submitted. Board member Bill Smith did bring up concerns that he had seen from members of the public.

“The dynamics of harvest during the breeding season, the impact on the integrity of the wolf packs, pregnant females — there was a whole range of things. And some input from people that had hunted wolves or trapped wolves in the past as to whether or not their methods would be effective this time of year,” said Smith. “I would hope that we use this opportunity of a season in late February to evaluate whether or not those are significant concerns in the future.”

But another legal battle may upend the impending wolf hunt. State attorneys representing the DNR and the Natural Resources Board are appealing the Jefferson County judge ruling that said the February 2021 hunt must proceed.

Supporters of the hunt contend the wolf population can withstand it and the wolves are a danger to livestock and pets. But opponents, including biologists and wildlife advocacy groups, contend the wolves, a native species to Wisconsin, have not fully recovered and continue to need protection so their numbers will not dwindle to the point of extinction. Native American tribes in Wisconsin have also registered opposition, saying the wolf is a sacred animal.

Wolves were wiped out across most of the U.S. by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. A remnant population in the western Great Lakes region has since expanded to some 4,400 animals in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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