WORT FM 98.9 Radio News: Wildlife officials released a new draft of the state’s next Wolf Management Plan earlier today. The plan, released by the Department of Natural Resources, has been in the works for nearly two years. This most recent revision was made after the DNR received 3,500 comments during a 110-day public review period.
DNR Secretary Adam Payne states that “Within that feedback, we heard opinions that run the whole spectrum on this issue with much of the feedback echoing previous input and previous public comments heard earlier in this process… Since that time we’ve been reviewing and thoughtfully considering all of this feedback, using that to consider revisions and ultimately develop this revised draft that we’re sharing here today.”
The plan now recommends maintaining the statewide population at 1,000 wolves, following the majority opinion of survey responses.
That’s a change from the draft released in November, which recommended no specific target number. Instead, that plan proposed creating local advisory committees that would monitor the wolf population in different areas of the state. Those committees would then decide on a target wolf population for their area.
The recommendations in the plan released today sets certain thresholds for the wolf population in Wisconsin. But those thresholds are flexible given the state’s estimated population.
Under current estimates, a population under 800 would have officials looking to grow the population.
A population between that and 999 would be considered stable.
A population between 1,000 and 1,1999 would be stable, with officials looking to reduce the population.
A population of anything above that would have officials looking to reduce the population..
These criteria could help set a plan for when officials set a wolf hunt, which became a high-profile issue in spring of 2021, when a court-ordered and hastily-planned spring hunt resulted in 218 wolves killed in just four days. The quota for that hunt was only 119 wolves.
DNR Large Carnivore Specialist Randy Johnson says the recommendations in the new draft plan would be used to help set the quotas in the future. “There’s so many scenarios you can lay out. For example, we may not have a harvest season for a number of years and who knows where the population will be at that time. If it’s potentially greater than 1,200 it would help set that initial starting point, if you will, for those conversations.”
The status of wolves has varied in Wisconsin and nationally, which has directly affected the state’s ability and options to manage the wolves. An endangered status would allow only non-lethal methods of control, whereas a threatened status would allow both lethal and non-lethal options of control. No status would permit both methods of control and would allow a public wolf hunting and trapping season in Wisconsin.
Former President Donald Trump revoked the endangered status of gray wolves in 2020, which allowed states and tribes to decide how to manage wolves. Wisconsin’s last wolf hunt was held in February of 2021.
A federal judge restored endangered species protection for the gray wolves nationwide in February of last year, which outlawed hunts.
Johnson acknowledges that “Wolves are still listed federally as endangered in Wisconsin so there’s no hunt on the horizon but the state law remains in place: that upon delisting [the] department’s required to begin a season so this plan is written to be flexible to be applicable to a delisted population as well as a listed population.”
Some farmers and ranchers maintain that wolf hunts are necessary to protect their livestock, especially since the population of wolves has risen in recent decades.
But animal rights activists argue that the wolf population isn’t stable enough to sustain hunting. Wolf education and conservation advocate Rachel Tilseth says, “Any hunt is going to disrupt them, and so we should try not to do that, if at all possible. But I think this plan is looking at the wolf population as far as the land can handle.”
She adds that the wolf holds spiritual significance for some members of the Chippewa Nation, which is why wolf hunts are not permitted on reservations. The DNR did not consult with Chippewa bands before greenlighting the hunt in 2021 during the spring, which is when female wolves are typically pregnant.
Tilseth says that the animals’ bonds with each other as pack animals should not be disturbed. “I think the February 2021 wolf hunt proved it wasn’t good to hunt them, especially when they were pregnant, especially to break the packs apart when they rely on each other.”
A 2022 survey by the DNR shows most Wisconsin households that responded support a population larger than 350 wolves, including in the wolf’s current range.
A report issued last month by conservation group Wisconsin’s Green Fire found wolf attacks on hunting dogs have fluctuated but not changed significantly. The group also found attacks on livestock have mostly declined as the population has grown, except after the 2021 wolf hunt when 45 farms had livestock depredation by wolves, according to data from USDA-Wildlife Services. The figures show a tiny fraction of the state’s more than 64,000 farms have been affected by wolf depredations.
According to the DNR, the agency received 31 verified complaints of wolf depredations so far this year, affecting 18 producers. While those figures have fluctuated since 2019, the agency has seen fewer than 50 verified attacks each year that have affected even fewer farmers. Source WPR Interview
The revised version of the plan is set to be reviewed by the Natural Resources Board and voted on by the DNR’s policy board in October.
People & Wolves film project is capturing the story for the big screen! And watch the teaser of Dr. Jane Goodall founder of the Jane Goodall Institute & Messenger of Peace and hear what she had to say about Wisconsin’s gray wolf.