When the Trump administration delisted gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act, it triggered a Wisconsin law requiring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hold a wolf hunt from mid-October through February, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The DNR originally said it would wait until November 2021 to prepare a hunt, but hunting advocates sued to speed up the process, and last week a judge ordered the board to prepare a February hunt. This prompted the DNR to set a quota on Monday of 200 gray wolves that can be killed before the end of the month.
Wildlife advocates oppose the move, pointing out that the rushed hunt will take place during the wolves' breeding season.
"You remove one, you're essentially destabilizing and killing the entire pack," Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife Executive Director Melissa Smith told Public News Service. "So, we expect this to be pretty detrimental to our wolf population."
The federal delisting of wolves officially went into effect in January. In December, the DNR said it would wait until November to set a hunting quota, arguing that it needed more time to make a scientifically sound plan and consult with tribes and the public, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. In late January, the state's Natural Resources Board rejected a push from Republican lawmakers to speed up the quota, Wisconsin Public Radio reported at the time.
However, Kansas-based group Hunter Nation sued the state to start the hunt this winter. It argued that delaying the hunt violated hunters' constitutional rights, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ruled in the group's favor. While Wisconsin is appealing this decision, the Natural Resources Board still voted Monday to authorize a February hunt.
The hunt will allow the killing of 200 wolves that aren't on tribal reservations, according to the DNR website. The hunt will last from Feb. 22 to Feb. 28, and hunters can apply for a permit between Feb. 16 and Feb. 20. The state will issue 4,000 permits, the Wisconsin State Journal reported, which is twice the number that staff recommended.
The department said it based the quota on the best available science, without intending to increase or decrease the state's wolf population. However, DNR members said they would have made a more accurate decision given more time. They also did not have a chance to fully consult with tribes or gather public input.
"Was there more we would like to do? Yes," Keith Warnke, administrator of fish, wildlife and parks for the DNR, told Wisconsin Public Radio. "Are we confident and comfortable with the quota recommendation we made? I think... we would have been more confident and more comfortable had we taken more time."
There are currently 1,195 wolves in Wisconsin, according to DNR. The last time the state managed the population, it set a quota of 350 wolves in 1999 and last updated it in 2007, wildlife advocates point out. Indigenous groups also argue that wolves are sacred to their communities, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. On the other side, those who support hunting argue that wolves are a threat to livestock and rural residents. But wildlife advocates counter that hunting is not the solution to human and wolf conflicts.
"Indiscriminate killing of wolves actually increases conflicts and spreads deer disease like CWD, so the special interests like the farm bureau and sportsmen's groups are not only doing a disservice to themselves pushing an early wolf hunt but may cause the wolf to be relisted again," Northern Wisconsin resident Britt Ricci said in a Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife statement.
Fear of new federal protections are partly behind the push for a hunt this winter, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The Biden administration has called for a review of the Trump administration's agency rules, including the delisting of wolves.
"And so, they want to rush and try to kill as many as they can in a short time as possible during a sensitive breeding season," Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf's Smith told Public News Service.