Hunters Killed 82% More Wolves Than Quota Allowed in Wisconsin

The state’s Department of Natural Resources granted permits to about 1,500 hunters to kill 119 wolves, but 216 were shot

A gray wolf sits in tall grass looking toward the camera
Wisconsin was home to about 1,195 wolves in 256 packs at the end of 2020, according to the state's Department of Natural Resources. John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS

Hunters and trappers participating in Wisconsin’s fourth wolf hunting season killed almost 100 more animals than was allowed under the state’s quota, Paul A. Smith reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources issued 1,486 tags to hunters with a quota of 119 wolves. Hunting was closed at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and hunters had 24 hours to report their kills. The final count: 216 wolves, according to data released by Wisconsin DNR on Thursday.

“It’s easy at this point in the game to say, yeah, maybe we should have closed it a little bit sooner,” said Eric Lobner, DNR Wildlife Management Director, at a press conference, per the Associated Press’ Todd Richmond. “There were so many unknowns about how the season was going to play out. ... How far we went over goal was not necessarily our objective.”

The short hunting season came to be after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves’ endangered species status at the beginning of January. Since 2012, Wisconsin state law requires a wolf hunt to be held between November and February if the animals are not endangered.

When the wolves’ lost Endangered Species Act protections, the DNR began planning for a hunt in November 2021. But a court order obtained by Kansas-based hunter advocacy group Hunter Nation forced the hunt to proceed in February, Danielle Kaeding reports for Wisconsin Public Radio. The DNR sought to appeal the decision, but their request was dismissed.

The quota for the wolf hunt was set at 200 wolves total, and 81 were allocated to the Ojibwe tribes because of their treaty rights to half of licenses planned for ceded lands. Dylan Jennings, spokesperson for the Great Lakes Indian, Fish and Wildlife Commission declined to comment on whether the tribes had used or would use their wolf hunting permits. But the Commission opposed the hunt and in the past, tribes had claimed permits without using them in order to protect wolves.

"This is a clear example of mismanagement and full disrespect to Wisconsin tribal nations with treaty protected rights," says Jennings to WPR. "The decisions neglected science, and tribes have always adhered to their tribal quotas, and they fully expected the state to do the same. And, so, it's a major disappointment. We could be looking at major implications for Wisconsin wolf packs for years to come."

Critics cite the short length of the hunting period, the 24-hour window for hunters to report their kills, and the unusually high number of hunting permits as reasons that the hunt exceeded the quota by 82 percent, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state sold 1,547 permits, 13 times higher than the quota of 119 wolves and the highest ratio of hunters to target wolves of any past wolf hunting season, per the AP.

DNR staff monitored the reported wolf kills on at least an hourly basis; Lobner said during the press conference that he checked the registrations about every 15 minutes. By Tuesday morning, 48 wolves had been registered by hunters. That afternoon, the DNR gave its 24 hour notices that the wolf hunting season would come to a close. By 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 182 wolves had been registered, Chris Hubbuch reports for the Wisconsin State Journal.

About 86 percent of hunters used dogs to track down wolves, and fresh snow early in the week made for easier tracking, reports the Milwaukee State Journal. In total, 54 percent of the hunted wolves were male, 46 percent were female.

"Trophy hunters and trappers drastically blew past the quota of 119 and killed over 200 wolves, using the most egregious methods imaginable and during the breeding season when wolves are pregnant,” said Megan Nicholson, Wisconsin state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement, per WPR.

The DNR will conduct population surveys of the animals, which they plan to conclude in April. Then the DNR will form a wolf advisory committee to develop new quota recommendations for a hunt in November.

"We have a robust, resilient wolf population," says DNR administrator of parks, land and wildlife Keith Warnke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think we are very confident we will be able to manage (wolves) properly going forward."

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