Wisconsin wolf hunt ends after three days
Despite quota overage, DNR says population healthy
By Eileen Persike
The February wolf hunt in Wisconsin resulted in the taking of 216 animals in three days. The hunt was scheduled to take place Feb. 22-28, but was closed early by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) when the quota of 119 wolves in non-tribal areas was reached. A majority, 86%, was harvested using dogs; 5% were trapped and 9% were killed by “other” means.
Per state law, hunters have 24 hours to report their kills, and also by state law, the DNR must give a 24-hour notice before closing the season; both can make tracking the harvest challenging.
Eric Lobner, wildlife management director, DNR Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division noted that nine harvested animals were reported at the end of the first day.
“The next morning the number was up to 48 and we immediately began monitoring the harvest constantly and immediately closed the first three zones.”
Randy Johnson, DNR large carnivore specialist said he watched the harvest information every 15 minutes.
“When it picked up, it picked up in a hurry,” Johnson said. “We took registrations at all hours of the day and night – very difficult to predict what that trajectory was going to be.”
Gray wolves were taken off the federal endangered species list last fall, and a Wisconsin circuit court order earlier in February required the DNR to immediately implement a February harvest. The DNR set a quota of 200 wolves, and after the Ojibwe declared the intent to harvest their share, the quota was adjusted.
Prior to the court order, a fall 2021 wolf harvest season had been in the planning stages.
“We continue to believe as we stated in December, and several times earlier this year, that a transparent and inclusive process implemented over several months, instead of a few days, produces the best season results for all interested parties,” said Keith Warnke, division administrator, DNR Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division. “Although the timeframe for doing so was short, we used the best available science while following existing laws to implement the season.”
Beginning a wolf hunt late in February is fairly unprecedented, Johnson. He said they looked at a number of possible scenarios on how the hunt would turn out. Surpassing the harvest quota – though in this case by over 80%, was one they considered.
“Using dogs is a very efficient method of harvest and it was allowed this whole season,” Johnson said, adding that hunting conditions in the Northwoods were ideal, with fresh snow Monday and Tuesday morning.”
Under the direction of the Natural Resources Board, the DNR also had available twice the number of permits it has used in past wolf hunts, with 20 times the quota, or 2,380 permits available. This, along with the weather are two of the factors that affected the harvest.
“We’re going to have to digest this and bring in our wolf experts and bring in our partner experts before we have any kind of a reaction one way or the other,” said Lobner.
During a virtual press conference Thursday, DNR staff stated several times that the wolf population in the state is robust and resilient, so though the set quota was surpassed, the population can sustain it.
“Our population is neighbored,” Johnson said. “We’ve got wolves in the U.P., we’ve got wolves in Minnesota, Ontario, there’s a lot of movement between all three so this is a segment of a much larger and well connected, healthy wolf population.”
Now that the February wolf season is completed, Johnson said the DNR will study data, produce a new population estimate and work with that updated information as they plan for the fall hunt.