Wednesday, March 03, 2021

WI Wolf Hunt: Dominated by Hound Hunting, Perfect Conditions, Politics

Image from Wisconsin Wolf Hunters Facebook, cropped and scaled by Dean Weingarten

In February of 2021, Wisconsin held the first legal wolf hunt in the state, as required by law, since 2014. For seven years, the mandated wolf hunt was delayed and prohibited by activist groups and federal judges far from the action in Wisconsin. People who live with the increasing wolf population often have a different perspective, as shown in the linked videos.

Link to video of Wisconsin farmer

Link to video of wolf attack on pet dog (viewer discretion advised)

Because of court challenges, the Wisconsin hunt started later than previous hunts, on 22 February, 2021. The hunt was closed on 24 February, as reports of the wolf harvest were collected at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) headquarters. 

In Wisconsin, a target number of wolves to be harvested is set, then sufficient tags are issued to harvest that number. 

As reports of the harvest are collected, the DNR closes the hunt when it appears the desired number will be reached. Hunters have 24 hours to report a successful hunt, so there is always a lag in the reporting.  During the three days of the hunt, 216 wolves were harvested, 16 more than the target of 200.

The Ojibwa tribe claimed 50% of the quota in ceded lands, as determined by treaty and court cases. The Ojibwa council demanded and was awarded 81 of the 200 wolf quota. The Ojibwa council refused to issue any tags to tribal members. 

In the last federally allowed Wisconsin wolf hunt, in 2014, only 3.8% were taken with the use of dogs. From the Wisconsin DNR report on the 2014 wolf harvest: 

Of the 154 wolves harvested, trapping with foothold traps accounted for 124 (80.5%), and 30 (19.5%)wolves were harvested by hunters. Of the 30 wolves harvested by hunters, 6 (3.8%) were hunted with the aid of dogs. Three wolves were harvested with archery equipment; firearm was the method of harvest for all other animals (table 3). No wolves were harvested with the use of cable restraints.

Hunting with dogs is not a guarantee of a successful hunt. 

With the 22 February start, conditions for hunting wolves with dogs were ideal. A significant snow base, combined with two inches of fresh snow, made for ideal dog hunting conditions. Hunters could follow the sound of the dogs, attempt to get ahead of the wolves being pursued, then harvest the wolves as the dogs pushed them past the hunters, much as hunters use  beagles to hunt rabbits.

The snow, besides making tracking the wolves easier, also made spotting them in the Wisconsin woods easier.

In the 2021 hunt, 86% of the wolves were harvested with the aid of dogs. From

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.

The following graphics show the Wisconsin wolf hunting zones and the number of wolves harvested.


Image from Wisconsin DNR, cropped and scaled by Dean Weingarten

 Image from Wisconsin DNR, cropped Scaled and 2021 year text by Dean Weingarten

The politics of the Wisconsin wolf hunt show the usual conflict between activist groups centered in urban areas, and people who live with the predators.

The first Wisconsin wolf hunt since wolves were listed as protected species in 1974, occurred in 2012. The The legislature passed Act 169 requiring a wolf hunt when wolves were delisted:

 Federal Delisting of Wolves 

Federal de-listing of wolves occurred on January 27, 2012, following years of de-listings and re-listings resulting from a number of court cases, even though the Midwest wolf population exceeded recovery goals for many years.

Statutory Direction: Act 1 was approved by the Governor in April 2012. This statute authorizes and requires a wolf hunting and trapping season. Numerous season and application details were described in the statute. Act 169 authorized the Department to delineate harvest management zones, set harvest quotas, and determine the number of licenses to be issued to accomplish the harvest objective.

The timeline of listing and de-listing shows the process. The Wisconsin DNR determined the population goal for the gray wolf in Wisconsin to be 350 wolves.   From

1974 - Grey wolf listed as endangered in lower 48 states

2000 - Proposal to change Endangered Species Act (ESA) status of gray wolf in most of the lower 48

2003 - Final rule to change status of gray wolf

2004 - Proposal to de-list Eastern segment of gray wolf

2005 - Oregon court overturns 2003 final rule.

2005 - Vermont court overturns 2003 final rule.

2005 - Michigan and Wisconsin DNR apply for permits to use lethal methods to control depredations

2005 - Federal Department of the Interior declines to appeal Oregon and Vermont court decisions

2006 - Proposed rule to de-list gray wolf in Western district

2006 - Permits issued for Wisconsin and Michigan depredation permits. Lawsuit filed, judge rules against the Departments of Natural Resources.

2007 - Final rule to de-list gray wolves in Western Great Lake

2008 - Court rules against de-listing, places wolf back on ESA

2009 - Jan 14, final rule to de-list wolves in Great Lakes Announced.

2009 - Jan 20, final rule to de-list wolves in Great Lakes withdrawn by order of Rahm Emanuel of the Obama Administration.

2009 - April 2, Final rule to de-list wolves in Great Lakes

2009 - July 1, Final rule withdrawn for public comment 

2009 - Court order and settlement. Wolf places gray wolf in Great Lakes back on ESA list.

2011 - December 28,  final rule to de-list Great Lakes wolves.

2012 - First Wisconsin wolf season since 1974

2013 - Feb 12 Litigation against de-listing of Great Lakes wolves filed 

2013 - June 13 Proposed rule for de-listing of gray wolf

2014 - Second Wisconsin wolf season since 1974

2014 - December 19, Federal court decision places wolves in Great Lakes back on ESA list. 

2020 - January 5, Trump administration de-lists Great Lakes wolves, due to high populations.

2021 - February 22, third Wisconsin wolf hunt since 1974.

The pattern is easy to see. Experts in game management call for de-listing of the wolves. Urban non-experts demand no wolves be killed, moving the issue to the courts. Rules are reversed by court order.  The process is repeated. Wolf populations continue to soar, big game populations are significantly reduced by wolf depredations, farmers, ranchers, and rural residents lose livestock and pets to wolves. Occasionally, wolves threaten or harm humans.

The managed population goal for wolves in Wisconsin has been consistent at 350 wolves in the state, for decades. It was re-iterated in 2012. From the Wisconsin DNR

The Wisconsin gray wolf (Canis lupus) population in late winter 2012 was 815 to 880 wolves including wolves in 213 packs and at least 20 loners. A total of 774+ wolves occurred outside of Indian reservations, thus the population exceeded its management goal of 350 wolves outside of Indian reservations by 424+ wolves.

This chart shows the wolf population increase in Wisconsin, 1980 to 2012. The middle line is the number of packs.  From Wisconsin DNR

The number of wolves in Wisconsin in the spring of 2020 was about 1195, as estimated by the DNR.

The population of Wisconsin wolves has risen from 49 to 1195 in 27 years, exhibiting a 12.5% annual growth rate. 

With a population of 1195 wolves in April of 2020, the population in February of 2021 was approximately 1344 before the harvest.

About 150 wolves a year will need to be harvested to keep the population in check. A higher number is needed to return the population to the goal of 350 wolves in the state.

Wolf populations are not self-limiting. Wolf populations expand to the limits of the food supply. They must be managed, or human wolf conflicts will continue to rise.

©2021 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hot take:
Coyotes are a bigger problem than wolves and you'd be better off exterminating the (invasive) former while leaving the (native) latter to fill their spot in the ecosystem.
Because I can guarantee there's more than 350 coyotes in Wisconsin.