Wisconsin wildlife officials have authorized the killing of 300 wolves for the 2021 fall hunting season, more than doubling biologists’ recommendation of a 130-wolf kill limit.
Scientists with the state department of natural resources (DNR) recommended the 130 limit after the four-day hunting season in February saw hunters kill almost twice as many wolves as allotted during the wolves’ breeding season, raising concerns over potential long-term ramifications for the population.
“We’re uncertain of the impacts of that February hunt,” said Keith Warnke, the fish, wildlife and parks division administrator during a tense public meeting with conservationists and the DNR’s policy board. “The situation … warrants caution,” he added.
Paul Collins, state director of Animal Wellness Action, criticized the state’s wildlife officials, saying: “What is being called wolf management in this state is a revenge-driven assault perpetrated by legal dog-fighters, trophy killers, disingenuous special interests and their anti-wolf allies in the state legislature.”
Conservative-leaning board members dismissed criticism that the fall hunt would threaten the wolf population, citing the DNR’s June estimate of “wolf abundance”.
“I’m not really concerned about, you know, being afraid if we set that number too high we’re going to run more of a risk of them being relisted [as endangered],” said William Bruins, a board member.
Some hunt supporters even demanded the board increase the fall quota to as high as 500 animals, insisting that the DNR has significantly underestimated the wolf population. Other board members argued that they had a responsibility to control the pack and protect surrounding livestock from wolf attacks.
The board ultimately voted 5-2, dismissing the recommended 130-wolf kill quota.
Wednesday’s vote marks another contentious installment in Wisconsin’s bitter debate over wolf management.
Last October, in a move that received immense backlash from conservationists, the Trump administration removed endangered species protections from the gray wolf. For 45 years, gray wolves were provided with federal protection as the species faced near-extinction in the country at one point.
According to the DNR’s latest estimates from the winter of 2019-2020, Wisconsin’s gray wolf population reached 1,000 animals. The department’s management plan, which was created in 1999, sets out a population goal of 350.
As the species made its comeback, local residents and conservationists have become embroiled in a fierce debate over how to handle the population.
Many farmers across northern Wisconsin argue that hunting is the only way to control the animals, which they regard as a threat to their livestock and pets. Conservationists insist that the population is still too small to sustain hunting and that the wolves are too majestic to be slaughtered.
Despite the overall 300-wolf kill quota, the quota set for state-licensed hunters will almost certainly be less than 300. Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribes are entitled to claim up to half of the quota under treaty rights that date back to the 1800s. The Chippewa consider the wolf sacred and refuse to hunt them. If the tribes claim their full half of the quota, state-licensed hunters will only be allowed to kill 150 wolves.
“The hatred toward this being is based on myth,” said John Johnson Jr, president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. “You’ve had the functional equivalent of two seasons already this year. [But] nothing will dissuade the desire for more blood from our brother.
“What will be in short supply today is respect. Respect for science, respect for the tribal community, respect for the ma’iingan,” Johnson added, using the Chippewa term for wolf.