Evidence continues to suggest Wisconsin and neighboring states are responsibly managing the upper Midwest’s wolf population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just reported the number of wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan increased slightly in the past year to 3,719, despite wolf hunts in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The wolf population is healthy, with its recovery from near extinction in tact.

Wisconsin’s numbers fell in the last year by nearly 150 animals to around 675 in April, which is just before pups are born, according to last week’s federal report. That’s why Wisconsin wisely changed its hunt this fall. Trappers and hunters are now limited to taking 150 wolves, which is down from last season’s harvest of 257.

“Wolves appear to have now saturated the high quality habitat in Wisconsin,” according to the federal report.

That’s good news. Yet some caution is warranted. Wisconsin doesn’t want to risk the welcome return of this majestic animal.

The federal report suggests a smaller harvest in Wisconsin makes sense. It notes that last year’s increase in the wolf harvest here was virtually the same as the animal’s overall population decline. This season’s lower wolf harvest should help steady the population.

Wisconsin is nearing the end of its third wolf hunt since the animal was removed from the threatened and endangered species list. The season, which began Oct. 15, was slated to run until Feb. 28 or until trappers and hunters met a 150-animal quota.

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Trappers and hunters in Wisconsin had bagged 103 wolves as of Thursday morning, according to David MacFarland, a state Department of Natural Resources official who specializes in large carnivores. That left only 47 to go, with four of six wolf hunting zones in the state already closed.

Some hunters and trappers complain about limited opportunities. But if Wisconsin goes too far too fast, it risks the wolf’s successful comeback — which in turn risks the hunt itself.

Some non-hunters will decry any hunt at all. But northern Wisconsin residents deserve some protection for their livestock and pets. Attacks on livestock have fallen since the hunts began. In addition, hunting helps keep wolves wary of people.

The DNR has done a decent job of managing the state’s wolf population for all. It must balance competing interests and attitudes, with the politicians sometimes prioritizing politics over science.

Wisconsin remains the only state to allow the hounding of wolves, which is unnecessary and cruel.

Wisconsin should increase its outdated goal of maintaining 350 wolves. That estimate was made before wildlife officials knew the animal could thrive in a larger and diverse range.

Wisconsin should strive to keep its wolves adequately protected yet properly controlled.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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