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Wisconsin wolf hunt applications open at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday

The Natural Resources Board voted for a quota of 200 wolves to be killed, with 4,000 permits to be issued, and for the hunt to start Feb. 22.

Wisconsin wolf
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Monday voted 7-0 to hold a February wolf hunting and trapping season with 4,000 permits issued and up to 200 wolves killed. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR)

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board on Monday set the parameters for a wolf hunting and trapping season in the state to be held during the final week of February, allowing 4,000 permits to be issued with a quota of 200 wolves killed.

The board, which sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources, voted 7-0 to hold the hunt, pushed by a state court order made last week.

DNR officials said they will make the permit applications available online starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16 through Saturday, Feb. 20. Permit applications will cost $10 with those chosen in a lottery paying $49 for a wolf license.

Applications can be made at gowild.wi.gov , the lottery will be held Feb. 21 and those selected could begin hunting or trapping as soon as they purchase and print their license Feb. 22.

The eight-day season will be closed early in each of six zones if the quota for that zone is reached. Zone 1, in Northwestern Wisconsin, has the highest quota at 62.

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DNR biologists had suggested only 2,000 permits be issued to reach the quota of 200 wolves killed, but the board doubled that to 4,000, with some members saying hunter success will be limited in a mid-winter season.

“We have a very short window here to reach these harvest goals and objectives,” said the board's vice chairman, Greg Kazmierski, of Pewaukee. Even with 4,000 permits, there would be about one hunter for every four square miles of actual wolf habitat, he noted.

DNR biologists said that killing 200 wolves statewide would help "stabilize" the overall wolf population without causing any major issues. But the DNR's Dave MacFarland noted that killing up to 20% of only 1,000 wolves in Wisconsin is unusual because most hunted species have hundreds of thousands of individuals.

The hastily organized wolf hunt comes after a Wisconsin state court judge on Feb. 11 ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources must hold a wolf hunting season yet this winter, despite the agency’s objections, based on a state law that calls for a season to be held between November and February if federal rules don't get in the way. The DNR on Friday asked the state appeals court for a stay of that order but had not yet received one as of Monday.

It will be the first public wolf hunting and trapping season in Wisconsin since 2014 when a federal court order restored federal Endangered Species Act protections for the big canines.

The state court ruling came after a sportsman's group sued to force the hunt, which some hunters and livestock owners say is necessary to quickly cull the state’s wolf population, which stands at about 1,034. Wolf supporters say the hunt is premature, while the DNR itself had planned to wait until November, saying it needs more time to develop scientific guidelines and rules.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the DNR, narrowly rejected a push Jan. 22 by Republican lawmakers to direct the department to immediately open a wolf hunting and trapping season.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit Feb. 2 on behalf of Kansas-based Hunter Nation demanding the DNR hold the hunt based on existing state law that kicked in when federal protections ended in January. The state law calls for a hunt between November and February.

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Some critics of the mid-winter hunt say it would happen during wolf breeding season and could disrupt pack behavior, potentially leading to more conflicts with livestock and pets, not less conflict.

The Trump administration’s removal of federal protections for gray wolves, announced in October, went into effect Jan. 4, turning wolf management over to state and tribal agencies for the first time since 2014, when a federal court ordered that Endangered Species Act protections be restored for the big canines. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials concluded that wolves have recovered enough in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula to allow hunting and trapping, although the delisting included all 48 contiguous states, even where wolves don’t exist.

Neither Minnesota nor Michigan have moved to hold a wolf hunting or trapping season as yet.

This story was edited at 12:58 p.m. Feb. 15 to correct when the hunting season will be held. It was originally posted at 12:35 p.m. Feb. 15.

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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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