Wisconsin hunters kill 216 wolves in less than 60 hours

Kills quickly exceeded statewide limit, forcing the state to end the hunting season early

Gray wolves in the North American wilderness


Hunters and trappers in Wisconsin killed 216 gray wolves last week during the state’s 2021 wolf hunting season – more than 82% above the authorities’ stated quota, sparking uproar among animal-lovers and conservationists, according to reports. The kills all took place in less than 60 hours, quickly exceeding Wisconsin’s statewide stated limit of 119 animals.

As a result, Wisconsin’s department of natural resources ended the season, which was scheduled to span one week, four days early.

While department officials were reportedly surprised by the number of gray wolves killed, they described the population as “robust, resilient” and expressed confidence in managing the numbers “properly going forward”.

Most of the animals were killed by hunters who used “trailing hounds”, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The state’s overkill was exacerbated by Wisconsin law that mandates 24-hour notice of season closure, rather than immediate notification.

Natural resources department officials also sold 1,547 permits this season, about 13 hunters or trappers per wolf under the quota’s target number. This equated to twice as many permits as normal – and marked the highest ratio of any season so far.

State authorities had a total culling goal of 200 wolves, in an attempt to stabilize their population. As Native American tribes claimed a quota of 81 wolves, this left 119 for the state-licensed trappers and hunters. Because the tribes consider wolves sacred, they typically use their allotment to protect, not kill, them.

“Should we, would we, could we have [closed the season] sooner? Yes.” Eric Lobner, DNR wildlife director, said, according to the Journal Sentinel.

“Did we go over? We did. Was that something we wanted to have happen? Absolutely not.”

The overshoot, which has never exceeded 10 wolves in prior seasons, spurred criticism.

Megan Nicholson, who directs Wisconsin’s chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, commented in a statement: “This is a deeply sad and shameful week for Wisconsin.”

She added: “This week’s hunt proves that now, more than ever, gray wolves need federal protections restored to protect them from short-sighted and lethal state management,” Nicholson also said.

This hunt comes in the wake of federal policy, and local litigation, that stripped gray wolves of protection.

In the 1950s gray wolves, which are native to Wisconsin, were extirpated from the state due to years of unregulated hunting. Heightened protections, such as the federal 1973 Endangered Species Act, helped the population rebound.

Following the implementation of these protections, gray wolves emerged and spread from a northern Minnesota “stronghold”, the Journal Sentinel said.

The implications of these protections were sweeping: while the gray wolf population had dropped to about 1,000 by the 1970s, the number now totals about 6,000 in the lower 48 states.

The gray wolf was delisted for protection in 2012, however. Wisconsin officials subsequently provided three hunting and trapping seasons. In 2012, 117 wolves were killed; in 2013, 257; and in 2014, 154.

A federal judge, in response to a lawsuit from wildlife advocates, decided in December 2014 that the gray wolf must be put back on the Endangered Species List. In October 2020, the Trump administration removed the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List.

A Kansas-based hunting advocacy group filed suit against Wisconsin’s department of natural resources in January over its decision not to provide a gray wolf hunting or trapping season this winter. This legal action reportedly “forced” the department to hold a season before February ended.

The season was also the first to take place in February, the gray wolf’s breeding season. Advocates have worried that killing pregnant wolves could have an even greater impact on their population, possibly disrupting packs.

Because officials rushed to open the season, there was dramatically limited opportunity for legally mandated consultation with Native American tribes, the newspaper also notes.

“This season trampled over the tribes’ treaty rights, the Wisconsin public and professional wildlife stewardship,” a representative for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission reportedly said.

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