The January 4th ruling to delist wolves from the Endangered Species List allowed for states like Wisconsin to start planning their first wolf hunts in years. With the burden of management now strictly on the shoulders of state officials, harvest quotas and regulations were put in place before the hunt opened.
In the first two days Wisconsin’s season, hunters had taken nearly 70% of the quota spurring the DNR to close the season early. But, with the 24-hour grace period the success continued: Hunters took 216 wolves, exceeding the quota by more than 80%.
Six hunting zones were established across the state, each with their own perspective quotas. A meeting prior to season set the quota of 200 wolves statewide. 119 wolves were dedicated to non-tribal lands and the other 81 were set aside for the Ojibwe Tribes. These numbers were unanimously agreed upon and based upon 2020 survey numbers. All six units exceeded harvest quotas, some more than doubled the allotted number.
Originally, the season was set to open in November of this year and run through February of 2022 but with fears that the Biden Administration would relist the wolves pending a review of decision to delist, Republican representatives and groups like Hunter Nation fought to open the season in February. According to the Associated Press, Hunter Nation sued the DNR seeking a court order to force the DNR to hold a hunting season in winter 2021. After winning the court case, Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ordered the DNR to hold a season this February.
“The ruling finally provides clear direction to the Evers’ administration to move full speed ahead with our statutorily required wolf hunt,” said Hunter Nation. “And it isn't just that it is required—our state's wolf population is out of control. According to the DNR's own reports, the wolf population is nearly four times the state goal and wolf attacks are up 70% since the state's last wolf hunt.”
The hunt received a tremendous amount of support and hunters and trappers alike took to the woods to hopefully punch a tag of their own. The DNR received 27,151 applications with up to 4,000 permits available. It seems that Wisconsin outdoorsmen were itching to hunt wolves since there hasn’t been a hunt since 2014. According to Hunter Nation, the hunt in 2014 took nearly two months to reach a 100-wolf quota.
Anti-hunting organizations were incredibly upset about the ruling to open the season. “This ruling is such a disappointment for Wisconsin’s wolves and all who believe that science, not bullets, should drive wolf management,” said Collette Adkins of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trophy hunters wasted no time in pushing for this wolf hunt in the middle of the wolf breeding season, against the advice of state experts, and without consultation with regional tribes. We will continue our fight to stop the hunt.”
With another season set to open in November—pending the results of Biden’s review—this overly successful hunt could prove to be ammunition in the hands anti-hunting groups. While the state management agency did their job, set quotas and closed the season early, this could be seen as a failure and used to implement federal oversight in regard to wolf management.
Widespread disapproval is rampant: Discouraging headlines have been ravaging the internet with a solemn outlook as to what happened. But nearly doubling the quota in three days should call for more biological surveys of wolf populations to better manage a population that is seemingly larger than what was believed at the beginning of the season. Those who participated in this hunt are proud of the success and hope for better management of the population in the future.
“Hunter Nation is proud of the effort we undertook that allowed the statutorily required wolf hunt to move forward this week,” said Hunter Nation. “Reports from the field show us that despite the Evers' administration's attempts to trample our constitutional right to hunt, this population of predators was in desperate need of management.”
The hunting conditions at the opening of the season were perfect—another reason being attributed to the success of the hunt. And it is reported that 90% of successful hunters used hounds to assist in their hunt. Even with dogs and perfect conditions, a larger an abundance of wolves was one of the main reasons for the overarching success. The DNR estimates that there are nearly 1200 wolves in the state, a staggering number that is well above the management goal of 350 individuals set by state biologists.
As hunters we believe that sound management practices are the best way to ensure sustainable populations for generations to come. It is our responsibility as stewards of wild animals and wild places to abide by rules, purchase tags, hunt ethically and work for the wildlife. If you live in Wisconsin, continue to work with the DNR to ensure hunts continue in the future. Wolves should be continued to be managed, just as we manage other game animals.