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A decision by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to carry out another wolf hunt this fall drew immediate backlash from elected officials. Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) blasted the DNR’s move, highlighting the prior hunt in February as “the result of a last minute court order,” as well as “poorly planned” and void of adequate regulations and monitoring.
“There were more than 218 gray wolves killed in the abbreviated 3-day season,” said Carpenter in a release. “The court decision allowed for the total killing of 119 wolves, with another 81 reserved for Native American tribes. We all know that in just those three days, the total reported number of wolves killed was 83% greater than allowed. It was clear the Department did not have adequate plans in place earlier this year, won’t have rules ready until 2022, and now we’re going to do the same thing?”
February’s hunt drew ire for a number of reasons. Most notably, the hunt took place during the animal’s breeding season while many females were likely pregnant. At the time, just over 1,000 wolves were known to exist in Wisconsin. The hunt was rammed through after the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list by the Trump Administration, the last in a series of attacks on the Endangered Species Act under the prior president. Soon afterward, a Kansas-based hunters’ organization sued the DNR to set a wolf hunt in Wisconsin. A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the hunters organization, and a hunt was scheduled without adequate time to prepare or consult with tribal communities.
The quota the DNR set was exceeded in all of the established hunting zones, even though the Ojibwi Tribes chose not to hunt their allocated portion of 81 wolves. In April, Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee grilled DNR Secretary Preston Cole for standing in the way of the constitutional rights of hunters. Cole countered that the DNR wasn’t given enough time to consult with the tribes, as well as take other steps prior to a hunt. The total quota of 200 wolves set by the DNR accounted for about 16% of the wolf population in Wisconsin.
Research conducted by independent scientists also suggests that the number of wolves killed may be much higher than the DNR has estimated. The study by UW-Madison researchers suggests that the wolf population experienced a 27-33% decline, countering the state’s assertions that there was no change in the population size. The study also stated that the hunting quota was exceeded by 83% by hunters. The DNR, however, has rejected the study’s findings and criticized the methods it used.
Now, according to the department’s website, “the DNR is preparing for a fall 2021 wolf harvest through a transparent and science-based process.” Applications for the season were accepted March 1-Aug. 1, with $10 for an application fee. During the last season, the DNR received over 27,000 applications while only 2,380 were available. “The DNR has convened a 2021 Wolf Harvest Advisory Committee to provide input on the management objectives and harvest quota for the fall season. The committee will consider the current management plan, state statute and the February 2021 season report in providing input to the department. In addition, the DNR will coordinate without Tribal partners and will seek further public input on harvest objectives.” The new quota for the fall season is 130 animals.
Carpenter expressed concerns about, “the rush to sanction another hunting season for wolves when the Department has yet to determine the actual extent of the destruction this past season had on the wolf population in Wisconsin.” He added that, “we know that there were more wolves killed than allowed, but even the Department has no idea how many females were killed and what that might mean for the future of the wolf population in our state.” The senator stated he’s sympathetic to the concerns from farming communities, which come into conflict with wolves due to pets or livestock losses.
“While I understand that there are farmers and ranchers in our state that have had legitimate concerns with their herds and the losses caused by wolves,” said Carpenter, “they have always had the ability to protect their livestock. What occurred earlier this year and seems likely in the November season, is the wanton killing of incredible animals that have special meaning to many of our citizens. I think it’s an important question to ask the Department. Why are we doing this so soon again and without adequate rules in place?”
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