The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Friday jumped to be the first state to set a wolf hunting season after the federal government in late October moved to remove the big canines from Endangered Species Act protections.
The DNR said it would begin a wolf hunting season Nov. 6, 2021, but didn't offer details or specific rules as yet.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service move to delist gray wolves across the Lower 48 states will officially take effect Jan. 4, 2021, returning management authority to the Lower 48 states and tribes.
Under existing Wisconsin law, when the wolf is delisted, the state's annual hunting and trapping seasons shall automatically resume.
Multiple groups have already filed notice of their intent to sue the federal government to stop the delisting, saying the animals have not yet recovered over enough of their original range and claiming state wildlife agencies are overzealous in allowing sport hunting and trapping seasons that could return wolves to endangered levels.
The federal action affects wolves in any areas they exist, but will have the most impact in the western Great Lakes, where wolves have expanded in number and range since given federal protections in 1975. Recent monitoring efforts indicated a minimum of 1,034 wolves in Wisconsin, primarily across the northern one-third of the state and the central forested region. Minnesota has about 2,300 wolves and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has more than 500.
Minnesota officials so far have not moved toward any hunting or trapping season, but neither are automatic. Moreover, Gov. Tim Walz has said he does not support sport hunting or trapping of wolves at this time. The issue is likely to come up during the 2021 Minnesota Legislature’s regular session.
“Once wolves are removed from the federal list of endangered species, the DNR will work collaboratively and transparently to create a new wolf management plan to reflect our increased understanding of the biological and social issues relevant to wolf management,’’ the Wisconsin DNR said in a statement Friday. “The new plan will ensure sustainable management of Wisconsin wolves for the future.”
In addition, the DNR will also create a new Wolf Management Plan Committee, a group of government agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribal interests and conservation perspectives representing diverse interests. The existing wolf management plan, originally approved in 1999, was reviewed and updated in 2007 and helped guide recovery efforts in the state.
The Minnesota DNR currently is conducting ongoing meetings of a wolf advisory committee as it rewrites its wolf management plan.
Both Wisconsin and Minnesota held hunting and trapping seasons for wolves from 2012 to 2014 until a federal judge ruled the animals had been wrongly removed from federal protections.
Wisconsin officials note that it remains unlawful to shoot a wolf unless there is an immediate threat to human safety. However, if on private land, you can shoot and kill wolves that are in the act of killing, wounding or biting a domestic animal.