Wisconsin wildlife officials OK limits for 2nd wolf hunt

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin wildlife officials on Wednesday approved kill limits for the state’s second wolf hunt, allowing hunters and trappers to take 275 animals.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources proposed increasing the quota from 201 in last year’s inaugural hunt. The agency also proposed issuing 2,750 permits in keeping with its 10 permits for every wolf formula. The Natural Resources Board approved the plan unanimously during a meeting in Wausau.

DNR carnivore specialist Dave McFarland issued a statement saying the quota will put downward pressure on the state’s burgeoning wolf population. The DNR’s goal is 350 wolves statewide; the agency estimated between 809 and 834 wolves roamed the state late this winter and that count typically doubles when pups are born each spring, McFarland said.

“This quota was set with diverse input to try to balance many of the social interests in wolves with the need, and the department’s responsibility, to manage the state’s wolf population,” MacFarland said.

The state’s Chippewa tribes are entitled to claim up to half the quota for the ceded territory, a broad swath of northern Wisconsin the tribes handed over to the government in the 1800s. That means they could lay claim to up to 115 wolves, according to the DNR.

But the tribes consider wolves spiritual brothers and are fiercely opposed to hunting them. Last year they were allotted 85 wolves and claimed the right to all of those animals but didn’t kill a single one. The DNR still ratcheted down its non-tribal quota to 116 animals and reduced its permits accordingly to 1,160 to offset the potential tribal take. The agency will have to decide whether to drop its non-tribal quota and licenses and by how much once the tribes make their claim this year.

Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa’s off-reservation rights, declined comment on the tribal declaration, saying the matter is still under discussion.

The package the board approved mirrors a recommendation from the DNR’s wolf advisory committee, a group of stakeholders that includes representatives from GLIFWC, the Conservation Congress, the state bear hunters and cattlemen associations and the Timber Wolf Alliance.

Republican lawmakers passed a bill last year establishing a wolf hunt that would run annually from mid-October until the end of February or whenever hunters and trappers reached their kill limits.

The first hunt last fall was one of the most contentious outdoor issues Wisconsin has faced in years. Farmers tired of wolves preying on their livestock praised the move. Conservationists argued the state’s wolf population was too fragile to sustain a hunt. Animal rights advocates blasted the hunt as inhumane.

A group of humane societies filed a lawsuit challenging provisions that allow hunters to use dogs to go after wolves. A Dane County judge banned training dogs on wolves but allowed their use during the hunt. The Chippewa, meanwhile, tried to launch a night deer hunt despite the DNR’s long-standing ban on the practice as unsafe. The bands pointed to language in the wolf hunt law that allows hunting at night as justification; a federal judge blocked the Chippewa’s season but the case is still pending.

The DNR ultimately shut the season down two months early after hunters and trappers killed 117 wolves, one more than their quota, by December.