State wildlife officials say they’re confident Wisconsin’s wolf population can sustain losses from the first hunt since the lifting of federal protections even as hunters bagged far more than the established quota.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday afternoon that hunters killed 216 wolves between Monday and Wednesday. That’s about 18% of the estimated state population and almost double the quota for non-native hunters.
“We did go over,” said DNR wildlife management director Eric Lobner. “Is that something we wanted to have happen? Absolutely not.”
Randy Johnson, a large carnivore specialist, said the agency will use data from the hunt to update its population estimate. Johnson said the population has grown and shrunk in response to previous hunts, though he noted it is a segment of a much larger population of wolves that roam across the Upper Midwest.
“We have a robust, resilient wolf population,” said Keith Warnke, administrator of the DNR’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division. “We’re very confident we’ll be able to manage properly going forward.”
The DNR estimates there were 1,195 wolves in the state as of April 2020. The state wolf management plan goal is 350 wolves living outside of tribal reservations.
The DNR’s policy board approved a total quota of 200 wolves, which Johnson called a conservative number intended to keep the population level stable.
The state allocated 81 of those wolves to the Ojibwe Tribes that retain hunting and fishing rights in the northern portion of Wisconsin ceded to the United States in the 1800s.
In past hunts the tribes, who consider the wolf as a relative and oppose trophy hunting, have in past hunts not used their allocation, but wildlife officials say it could be weeks before they know whether any of those tribal wolves were killed.
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), which represents 11 Ojibwe tribes, opposed the hunt, which it said was held without an updated management plan, buffers to protect packs that live on reservation lands, or consultation with the tribes.
“Our tribal communities are disappointed and condemn the overage on the state’s part,” said GLIFWC spokesperson Dylan Jennings. “It speaks to some of the lack of enforceable management practices and lack of tribal consultation.”
The DNR said 54% of the wolves killed were male and 86% were hunted with dogs in conditions they described as ideal for tracking. About 5% were caught in traps and the rest taken through some other means.
Deputy Chief Warden Matt O’Brien said there were “a handful events” that led to some enforcement action but “no significant user conflicts.”
More than 27,000 people applied for licenses for the truncated hunting season, and the DNR issued 1,486 tags, including 21 to hunters from out of state.
The Trump administration removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in January, returning management to the states. Wisconsin law requires a wolf hunt be held from November through February when federal protections are not in place.
The DNR initially planned to hold a hunt in November, saying it could not establish science-based quotas and comply with treaty requirements, but a Jefferson County judge ordered a hunt to be held this winter after a Kansas-based hunting group sued.
A state court of appeals dismissed the DNR’s request to block the order.
Wisconsin last held a wolf hunt in 2014, but the law allows people to shoot wolves if there is an immediate threat to human safety or if wolves are attacking domestic animals on private land.
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