Wisconsin opens early wolf hunt after hunter group sued

Todd Richmond
Associated Press

Madison, Wis. – Wisconsin wildlife officials opened a wolf season Monday after hunting advocates sued to move the start date up from November amid fears that the Biden administration might restore protections for the animals.

The hunt will run through Sunday across six management zones. The Department of Natural Resources awarded 4,000 permits through a drawing and notified the winners on Monday morning. Notification allows hunters to take to the woods as soon as they get their licenses and carcass tags.

This July 16, 2004, file photo, shows a gray wolf at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, Minn.

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The DNR set the kill limit at 200 animals. The department could choose to close management zones early as hunters near the limit. The agency estimates that there are at least 1,000 wolves in Wisconsin and its aim is to maintain a population of 350.

Wisconsin law requires the DNR to run a wolf hunt from the beginning of November through the end of February. But wolves have been bouncing on and off the federal endangered species list for the past decade. The DNR ran its first hunt in 2012 after the Obama administration removed protections and ran two more before a federal judge re-listed the animals in late 2014.

The Trump administration delisted wolves in most of the U.S. again in January. The DNR was preparing to hold a season in November, but a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group, Hunter Nation, won an order from a Jefferson County judge that forced the agency to hold a season before the end of February. The group argued that President Joe Biden’s administration could restore protections for wolves before November and deny hunters a season.

Wolf management has been one of the most contentious outdoor issues that Wisconsin has grappled with over the past 20 years.

Northern Wisconsin farmers and residents say wolves kill their livestock and pets. According to DNR data, the state paid a total of $189,748 in 2019 to farmers and dog owners to compensate them for losses to wolves. It paid out $144,509 in 2018 and $102,600 in 2017.

Conservationists counter that the wolf population isn’t stable enough to support hunting them and that the animals are too beautiful to allow it.

Democratic legislators in neighboring Minnesota have introduced a bill that would ban hunting wolves in that state. Maureen Hackett, founder and president of Howling for Wolves, a Minnesota-based wolf advocacy organization, issued a statement Monday condemning the Wisconsin hunt.

“As apex predators, (wolves) have the social and biological structure to control their own pack sizes and numbers,” she said. “The political decision to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf is against public sentiment and sound science.”

An animal rights group calling itself Wolf Patrol planned to monitor hunters across the northern management zones starting Monday. In 2016, then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill prohibiting people from bothering hunters in the woods in response to allegations that Wolf Patrol members followed and filmed wolf hunters in Wisconsin and Montana in 2014.