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Wisconsin DNR releases new wolf management plan

The agency says hunting and trapping may continue, even with Wisconsinites' positive views about wolves.

wolf
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has released a new state wolf management plan that removes any cap on the state's wolf population, but calls for hunting and trapping if wolves lose their federal protection.
Contributed / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Thursday released a draft of its new Wolf Management Plan, more than a year in the making, that calls for limited hunting and trapping of wolves if the animals ever lose federal protections.

The DNR plan, now open for public comments through Jan. 10, also calls for continued monitoring and research of wolves and their population trends and habitat.

The state had an estimated 972 wolves last winter, down some from the previous estimate after hunters and trappers in the state killed 218 wolves during a 72-hour season in February 2021.

Use of dogs, fresh snow, more permits and higher wolf population led to a much higher wolf harvest than expected.

Since then a federal judge in California ruled that most wolves in the U.S., including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, are back under federal protections of the Endangered Species Act and are off-limits to any additional hunting or trapping. That ruling has been challenged in court, but so far hasn't been changed.

DNR wildlife officials say their new plan allows for a sustainable population of wolves in the state while calling for no specific minimum or maximum number of wolves. The last state wolf plan, written in 1999, called for a cap of 350 wolves in the state.

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The DNR said it had three underlying goals for the new wolf plan to accomplish:

  • Ensuring a healthy and sustainable wolf population to fulfill its ecological role.
  • Addressing and reducing wolf-related conflicts with people, livestock and pets.
  • Providing multiple benefits associated with the wolf population, including hunting, trapping and sightseeing.

Agency officials note in the plan that they want to increase public understanding of wolves within the state.
The proposed plan was developed with input from Wisconsin's tribal nations, which oppose wolf hunting and trapping, along with scientific literature reviews and the results of a new public opinion survey that found most Wisconsinites enjoy having wolves around and want to see about the same number or more wolves going forward.

In that survey, 33% of those polled living both in and out of the wolf range wanted about the same number of wolves in the state; 35% of those living outside the wolf range wanted to see more or many more wolves; and 22% of those living in wolf range wanted to see more or many more wolves. Only 12% of those living outside the wolf range wanted to see fewer wolves, while 27% of those living in the wolf range wanted to see fewer wolves.

Statewide, 75% of those polled agreed with statements like “wolves are special animals that deserve our admiration" and 77% with “predators like wolves keep nature in balance." Some 75% disagreed with less favorable statements like “the previous generations were right in eliminating wolves from the landscape."

Some 72% reported no feelings of frustration or anger when thinking about wolves in Wisconsin.

“The proposed draft Wolf Management Plan reflects the detailed and significant work done by DNR staff to ensure the health and stability of Wisconsin’s wolf population. Input from diverse and varied stakeholders was critical to the development of this proposal," said Preston Cole, DNR secretary, in a statement released with the draft plan. "I encourage the public to review and provide robust, meaningful feedback on the plan to the DNR. Because this is such an important issue for all of Wisconsin, we are providing an extended 60-day review period to offer all interested parties the opportunity to digest, reflect and provide feedback."

The DNR says about 972 wolves roamed the state in January, down from 1,150 in 2021.

What’s new?

The plan proposes several changes to “align the DNR’s wolf management strategy with the current state of the wolf population, the available science and the perspectives of a diverse public,” such as:

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  • Moving away from a single, numeric population goal and instead using an adaptive management process focused on balancing the three main objectives.
  • Reducing hunting/trapping harvest registration times and issuing zone-specific wolf harvest permits to improve the department's ability to effectively meet harvest quotas.
  • Adding mechanisms to address localized concerns, including wolf harvest concerns near tribal reservation boundaries and focused wolf harvest in areas with a history of wolf-livestock conflict.
  • Revising wolf management zone boundaries to better reflect current wolf distribution and habitat.
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Several farming, ranching and hunting groups support increased wolf control — including removing federal protections so hunting and trapping can resume — saying it’s past time their numbers were culled to reduce conflicts with livestock and pets and reduce wolf predation on deer and other wildlife. But wolf supporters say the animal still needs more time and space to reclaim more of its original range.

Wisconsin estimates about 1,000 wolves roam the northern and central reaches of the state. Minnesota has about 2,700 wolves mostly in the northern one-third of the state.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is rewriting its state wolf management plan, but any effort for a Minnesota hunting or trapping season is now prohibited under federal protection.

Wolves in Minnesota are listed as federally threatened, a distinction that allows lethal wolf management efforts by federal trappers near where pets and livestock have been killed. That program kills about 175 wolves in Minnesota each year. Lethal control is prohibited in Wisconsin, where wolves are listed as endangered.

Read and comment

The 178-page Wisconsin draft Wolf Management Plan, and links to comment on the plan, are available at dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/wolfmanagementplan .

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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