Wisconsin Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, along with two other Republican senators, introduced legislation last week that would remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Wyoming.
The goal of the bill is to return the management of wolf populations to the states. In Wisconsin, which has a law that requires a wolf hunt be held whenever the animal isn’t on the endangered list, a hunt in February of 2021 resulted in hunters far exceeding the quota set by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The wolf hunt in Wisconsin has become a major political issue, with Frederick Prehn, a member and former chair of the Natural Resources Board, refusing to give up his spot on the policy making body even though his term expired last year.
Last month, a federal judge in California restored protections for gray wolves in most of the country, including Wisconsin. Prior to the federal judge’s decision, a state court had ruled that Wisconsin couldn’t hold a hunt in November because the DNR had never established permanent rules guiding it.
Both court decisions were victories for conservationists who are opposed to wolf hunting.
Baldwin and Johnson have said that Wisconsin’s wolf population is at a level that doesn’t require federal protection, so management should go back to the state.
In an initial statement to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Baldwin, a Democrat, said her position is about the science of wolf biology.
“I have supported a bipartisan effort to delist the gray wolf in Wisconsin since 2011 because of the scientific conclusion that the population has recovered in the Great Lakes region and that is why we should return management to the State of Wisconsin,” she said. “This bipartisan legislation is the best solution because it is driven by science and is focused on delisting in the Great Lakes region, including Wisconsin.”
But in Wisconsin’s polarized state government, policy making around wolves has been fraught with division. Aside from Prehn’s refusal to leave his post, largely because of his desire to influence wolf policy, each decision on wolf management is divisive.
Last year, when setting the quota for the ultimately canceled November hunt, the Republican-held NRB chose to set the number much higher than recommended by DNR biologists. Eventually the DNR chose to ignore the decision of the NRB and set the quota at its initially recommended number.
Despite all this, Baldwin said in a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner that a consensus can be met when it comes to wolves in Wisconsin.
“There is scientific consensus that the population of gray wolves has recovered and the federal government can safely return the stewardship of the animals to the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “In crafting policies to manage these animals, I urge all stakeholders in the state to come to the table in a good faith effort to reach a consensus on hunting regulations.”
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