EXPLAINER: What’s ahead for the Wisconsin wolf hunt
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin wildlife officials will allow state-licensed hunters to kill scores of wolves this fall despite conservationists’ plea s to end wolf hunting completely, after a spring season that saw hunters blow past their quota by almost 100 animals. Here are the key takeaways from the contentious decision.
HOW MANY WOLVES ROAM WISCONSIN?
The state Department of Natural Resources’ last population survey, conducted during the winter of 2019-2020, put the number at around 1,030 wolves. But hunters killed at least 218 wolves in February, during the breeding season, raising questions about where the population stands today.
HOW MANY WOLVES DOES THE DNR WANT IN THE STATE?
That’s complicated. The agency developed a management plan for wolves in 1999 that the population would have to reach at least 350 wolves before the department could consider launching a public hunting season. Hunters and conservative-leaning members of the DNR’s policy board argue that figure is a population goal. Conservationists and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ administration say the number is a “threshold” for implementing management strategies such as hunting. Both sides have accused the other of distorting the meaning of the number. The department is updating the plan.
WHY IS WOLF HUNTING SO DIVISIVE IN WISCONSIN?
Farmers and residents across northern Wisconsin have argued for years that wolves have grown so numerous in that region that they’ve become a menace, attacking livestock, threatening pets and killing deer. They believe hunting is the only way to manage the population. Conservationists say the population is still too fragile to support hunting and object to state laws and regulations that they say give hunters an unfair advantage. The state’s Chippewa tribes consider wolves sacred and won’t hunt them.
ARE WOLVES REALLY PREYING ON LIVESTOCK?
Yes. The DNR paid out $144,509 in depredation compensation in 2018; $189,748 in 2019; and $199,276 last year. The department has verified 60 complaints of wolves harassing, killing or injuring cattle, hunting dogs, pet dogs and horses this year.
DOES THE DNR HAVE TO HOLD WOLF HUNTS?
Yes. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed bills in 2011 and 2016 requiring the DNR to hold a wolf season between November and February. The state held three seasons, from 2012 through 2014, before a federal judge placed wolves back on the endangered species list.
WHAT METHODS CAN HUNTERS USE?
The bills made Wisconsin the only state that allows hunters to chase down wolves with dogs. The legislation also allows hunters to bait and trap wolves, and hunt wolves at night. The bills require the DNR to give 24 hours of notice before closing a wolf hunting zone that is approaching its quota.
WHAT HAPPENED IN FEBRUARY?
The Trump administration delisted wolves in January, putting Wisconsin’s season back in play. DNR officials were planning for a November season but hunter advocates won a court order forcing a season in February, arguing President Joe Biden could relist wolves any time. The DNR rushed to put the season together and the results were chaotic. The department set the quota for state-licensed hunters at 119 animals and sold 1,548 licenses. Aided by ample snow cover that made tracking easy, snowmobiles and dogs equipped with GPS collars, hunters killed so many wolves so quickly that the department couldn’t close down management zones fast enough. In the end hunters killed 218 wolves, enraging conservationists.
HOW IS THE DNR APPROACHING THE FALL HUNT?
DNR biologists said they want to be cautious because the full impact of the February hunt on the population remains unknown. The department has scheduled the hunt to begin Nov. 6 and has recommended the DNR policy board approve a 130-animal quota. The Chippewa are entitled to claim up to half of the quota under treaty rights established in the 1800s. But the tribes have never hunted wolves. If they take their full allotment of 65 wolves but again choose not to pursue them, state-licensed hunters would be left with 65 wolves.
HOW DID THE BOARD VOTE?
Walker appointees still outnumber Evers appointees on the board. The body voted 5-2 Wednesday to raise the quota to 300 wolves. Assuming the Chippewa will take their full allotment of 150 animals to protect them, state-licensed hunters would be allowed to kill 150 wolves. The Walker appointees said they believe the population remains stable and they have a responsibility to manage the pack down to 350 animals. The Evers group warned the vote will cost the board credibility with conservationists. The Sierra Club accused the board of not learning from the February “slaughter” and disrespecting the Chippewa. Wisconsin’s Green Fire said the decision risks long-term damage to the wolf population. The Humane Society of the United States said the vote “flies in the face of science” and accused the board of ignoring the public will.
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