The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources released a draft of its first updated wolf management plan in 23 years on Thursday. The plan notably doesn’t include a total statewide population goal for the animal, a number that has caused a number of contentious political fights in recent years.
Since 1999, the state’s population goal has been set at 350 wolves. Estimates in September put the wolf population at 970 and hunters have frequently used that 350 number, to the chagrin of conservation activists, to push for larger quotas when wolf hunts have been held.
In 2012, Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that requires the state to hold a wolf hunt whenever the animal isn’t listed on the federal endangered species list. In recent years the controversy surrounding the required wolf hunt has caused a number of political battles.
In 2021, the wolf was delisted and an advocacy group known as Hunter Nation sued to force the DNR to hold a hunt immediately. That hunt was widely criticized by conservation groups for quickly exceeding the established quota. Hunters killed 218 wolves in four days, far overshooting the 119 wolf quota.
After concerns were raised that the February hunt decimated the state’s population, conservation groups successfully sued to stop a planned hunt for the fall of 2021. In February 2022, a federal judge restored endangered species protections for the wolf in Wisconsin.
The draft plan does away with the population goal. Instead it recommends the DNR and its wolf advisory committee work together to monitor the state’s six wolf hunting zones and decide if the population in each should be reduced, kept stable or allowed to grow.
“Although numeric population goals may effectively account for basic biological requirements, they can easily fail to account for other biological concerns and social factors which are ever evolving through space and time,” the plan states. “An alternative to numeric population goals is to prioritize management actions in response to existing conditions as observed in the field and scientific data. ”
The DNR is accepting public comment on its draft plan. Comments must be submitted by Jan. 10.
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