The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will allow hunters to kill 200 wolves in the last week of February even as the state appeals a judge’s order requiring the winter hunting season.
Acting on orders of a Jefferson County judge, the Natural Resources Board voted unanimously Monday to authorize a February hunting and trapping season for the gray wolf, which was removed last month from the federal endangered species list.
The DNR will issue up to 4,000 permits based on a recommended quota of 200 wolves.
That’s twice as many permits as recommended by staff, but board member Greg Kazmierski said given the shortened season having more hunters in the field would make it more likely to hit the quota. It would result in about one hunter per four square miles, about 2.5% the density of deer hunters.
“It’s not like there will be a wolf hunter behind every tree,” Kazmierski said.
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The agency estimates there were 1,195 wolves in the state as of April 2020. The state wolf management plan goal is 350 wolves living outside of tribal reservations.
In a memo to the board, DNR Secretary Preston Cole said public and tribal input was “very limited” and that the Wolf Advisory Committee was unable to meet on the proposed quota, which is designed to ensure stability of the wolf population.
Natural Resources program supervisor Dave MacFarland said it’s hard to predict exactly how the wolf population will respond, especially given the unusual timing of the hunt.
“Even with 1,000 wolves on the landscape, every 10 wolves represents 1% of the population,” MacFarland said. “There’s going to be uncertainty.”
The application period opens at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday through gowild.wi.gov or through a license agent. The DNR will announce drawing results on Feb. 22, and winners can begin hunting and trapping once they purchase a license. The season ends on Feb. 28.
The DNR will then begin accepting license applications for the November season on March 1.
There was no public testimony allowed at Monday’s meeting, but the board received nearly 2,000 written comments after posting a meeting notice Friday.
The wolf hunt has been a contentious issue for years. Those who favor hunting say the animals kill livestock and pets, and terrorize rural residents, while wildlife supporters say the creatures are too beautiful to kill and Native American tribes consider them sacred.
In January, the board narrowly rejected a call from GOP lawmakers to hold a winter wolf hunt amid concerns that the department had not consulted tribal nations as required by treaties and did not have time to set quotas.
The state on Monday asked the court of appeals to put a hold on Brantmeier’s order, arguing he misunderstood the law and that holding a hunt in February will require the DNR to disregard steps in administering a hunting season that are outlined in state law or in tribal treaties.
The Department of Justice asked the court of appeals to rule by 5 p.m. Monday, saying it would avoid the confusion and frustration that would arise if the court were to block the hunt after the application period opens.
An appeals panel on Monday afternoon gave the Kansas-based hunting organization until noon Wednesday to respond.
Natural Resources Board Chair Frederick Prehn said the DOJ did not consult with the board before filing the appeal.
“Court stay or no court stay, our task remains the same,” Prehn said.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered species list on Jan. 4, returning management authority to the lower 48 states and tribes. State law requires the DNR to allow wolf trapping and hunting from November through February if wolves are not listed as endangered.
Proponents of the wolf hunt fear President Joe Biden will return the animal to the endangered species list before the November hunt.
Wisconsin last held a wolf hunt in 2014, but the law allows people to shoot wolves if there is an immediate threat to human safety or if wolves are attacking domestic animals on private land.
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