DNR releases revised wolf management plan

By: - August 2, 2023 4:59 am
wolf hunt

Alex Tinder via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources released a new wolf management plan on Tuesday that has been in development since early 2021.

The plan, which will be taken up by the Natural Resources Board on Oct. 25, aims to “ensure a healthy and sustainable wolf population that fulfills the numerous ecological, cultural, and recreational benefits of wolves,” according to its statement of goals, “while being responsive in addressing and preventing wolf-related conflicts and recognizing the diverse values and perspectives of all residents in Wisconsin.”

A wide array of public input went into the revised plan. Last fall, the DNR created a Wolf Management Plan Committee bringing together 29 stakeholders including tribal representatives, hunters and other state residents. Wisconsin’s Tribal Nations and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission were also consulted by the DNR. A three and a half month public review and comment period followed, drawing over 3,500 comments which were both supportive and critical of the plan.

“The public’s interest and passion towards wolves and wolf management showed in the comments the DNR received,” said DNR Secretary Adam Payne. “This plan comes from years of dedicated effort and careful consideration, is flexible, actionable, and, most importantly, outlines a path toward responsible and sustainable wolf management.” Compared to the initial draft which was released in November, the revised plan remains committed to maintaining a healthy wolf population, while also attempting to find middle ground to decrease conflict with wolves. Although gray wolves are currently federally listed as endangered, state law mandates that a hunt be held any time the species is delisted.

According to the 2021-22 Wolf Monitoring Report, the likely pack-associated wolf population was 972, with a credible range of 812-1,193 wolves. The revised wolf management plan’s executive summary notes that the statewide winter population is estimated to be about 1,000 wolves in recent years. A wolf hunt which held in early 2021 was criticized for occurring during the wolves’ breeding season, and for jeopardizing the animals’ recovery.

Randy Johnson, a large carnivore specialist with the DNR, said the plan relied on science while incorporating public input. “There were certainly areas of contention, and even misconception, expressed in those comments,” said Johnson during a press briefing. “But there was also a number of other areas where the feedback was generally supportive of different proposals in that draft plan.” Johnson added that instead of using a specific number of wolves as a management objective, the plan seeks to maintain a healthy population while also decreasing conflict with wolves, “providing opportunities for recreational harvest” of wolves, and other “opportunities to interact with the wolf population.”

The plan also touched on outlining a wolf hunt season. Some changes include shortening the registration timeline, implementing zone-specific licenses as well as creating sub-zones and better calibrating the number of licenses issued based on how successful hunters are. Increasing public education and relying on science to guide management decisions were also priorities in  the revised plan.

Asked about political blowback from the Republican-controlled Legislature Johnson said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” In April, a Republican bill was introduced which would compel the DNR to set a specific number of wolves to be hunted each season. Tensions have also arisen between  Wisconsin farming communities and nearby tribal reservations. During the  last wolf hunt, tribal communities chose to not hunt wolves on their sovereign lands, while hunters elsewhere nearly filled the quota in less than a day. Private land-owners have expressed that they feel  their rights are being overshadowed by those of Wisconsin tribes. Another concern is the accuracy of population estimates, given that data focuses on state lands outside of reservations.

Until the Natural Resources Board takes up the revised plan in October, Johnson said he didn’t want to speculate on partisan objections or potential lawsuits. “I want to focus on writing a good, science-based wolf management plan and stick to that,” he said. Elizabeth Ward, director of the Sierra Club of Wisconsin, commended aspects of the plan. “While we’re still reading through the plan in its entirety, we are happy to see that Gov. Evers and the DNR remain committed to science, tribal authority, and public opinion. We commend the DNR for recognizing the ecological and cultural benefits of wolves and remaining committed to the best available science, adaptive wolf management, and low-quota zones.” The Sierra Club was one of the groups which served on the Wolf Management Plan Committee.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Wisconsin Constitution mandates a wolf hunt when wolves are taken off the federal endangered species list. In fact, Article I of the  Constitution states: “The people have the right to fish, hunt, trap, and take game subject only to reasonable restrictions as prescribed by law.” In 2011, the Legislature passed Wisconsin Act 169, which states: “If the wolf is not listed on the federal endangered list and is not listed on the state endangered list, the department shall allow the hunting and trapping of wolves.” It is the 2011 law, not the Constitution, that mandates a wolf hunt.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.