Wisconsin’s First Wolf Hunt In Six Years Did Little To Solve Man-Wolf Conflicts, But May End Up Harming Breeding Among 100 Wolf Packs: Report

April 30, 2021

By a Biometrica staffer

Wisconsin’s first wolf hunt in six years did little to resolve man-wolf conflicts, and may have harmed breeding among as many as 100 wolf packs instead, a report by conservation group Wisconsin’s Green Fire said. During the last week of February 2021, Wisconsin allowed public hunting and trapping of wolves for the first time since 2014. The last time wolves were hunted legally in Wisconsin in February was in 1956.

Hunters killed 218 wolves in less than 72 hours, according to the report, which adds that wolves were killed primarily in their core habitats, on public lands where conflicts with pets, livestock or human safety are already rare. The number of wolves in the state grew from just 25 in 1980 to 1,195 wolves before the February hunt, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). There are recovering wolf populations today in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, even as wolves have begun to inhabit Washington, Oregon, and California, the Center for Biological Diversity said.

“The lack of consultation with Wisconsin Ojibwe Tribes over the February hunt failed to meet the state’s responsibilities under both the LCO/Voight Decision that applies specifically to the Ojibwe tribes of Wisconsin, as well as broader obligations under the doctrine of Federal Indian Trust Responsibility,” the Wisconsin’s Green Fire report adds.

The report comes just as lawmakers in Idaho approved a bill authorizing the state to kill up to 90% of its wolf population, a measure championed by farmers and cattle ranchers that will become law if signed by the governor in the coming days. The Idaho House of Representatives voted 58-11 to approve the fast-tracked legislation, which passed the state senate with backing from the agricultural sector, Reuters reported. The legislation is now headed to the office of Republican Governor Brad Little. If he signs it, it will take effect within months.

The move threatens to partially undo decades of intense efforts—costing tens of millions in taxpayer dollars—to recover wolves in the region, a National Geographic article said. The bill would allow for wolves to be hunted just about any way, including being shot from airplanes, helicopters, ATVs, and snow machines. Baiting and night hunting with spotlights would be permitted. It would allow trapping and snaring wolves on private property year-round, and each hunter could purchase an unlimited number of tags for killing the predators, the Nat Geo article added.

The Idaho bill also calls for $300,000 in state funds to go specifically toward killing wolves that prey on elk. Since some of those funds can be given to hunters as reimbursement for expenses accrued killing wolves, critics see it as a return to the bounty-hunting system that led to the near-elimination of wolves from the Lower 48 in the early 20th century, the article goes on to say. It was even opposed by many organizations that traditionally support hunting, including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Idaho Sportsmen group.

In October 2020, the Trump administration announced that it would remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. That delisting, done by the U.S. Department of the Interior that said the population had sufficiently recovered to no longer warrant protection, went into effect in January 2021. After it went into effect, wildlife and environmental groups said they were suing the administration to restore federal protections for the gray wolf, a report by Wisconsin Public Radio said.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made its decision despite the science that concludes wolves are still functionally extinct in the vast majority of their former range across the continental United States. Gray wolf recovery in the United States should be an American conservation success story. Once found nationwide, gray wolves were hunted, trapped, and poisoned for decades; by 1967 there were fewer than 1,000 wolves in one isolated part of the upper Midwest,” the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organization said in a press release on Jan. 14 2021.

As the wolf population has grown, farmers and hunters have reported increasing conflicts with wolves. Since 2017, the number of wolf depredation complaints has grown from 111 to 148 complaints in 2020. The number of verified attacks increased from 82 in 2019 to 98 confirmed depredations last year. 

Across the border too, the wolf population is suffering. On Wednesday, April 28, Pacific Wild said in a post that it had learned the British Columbia government has killed 237 wolves during the winter of 2021 in its “continued war on wolves,” even though the lawfulness of the culling was still before the courts.