MARSHFIELD — A plethora of news articles are reporting that Wisconsin wolf hunters exceeded the Department of Natural Resource’s harvest quota by more than 50%. But this statistic is grossly misleading and has created a false narrative that deserves clarity.
The reality is Wisconsin’s wolf hunt quota was 200 for the 2021 season, and the number of officially harvested wolves was 216. That is less than 10% over the season quota — not 50%.
The confusion and misleading data stems from the DNR approving a statewide quota of 200 wolves, and then Native American tribes declaring their portion of the quota in the ceded territory, which is approximately the northern one-third of Wisconsin. These tribes did not harvest any wolves.
Confusing the public further, the DNR has been telling two very different stories about the same harvest quota overage of 10%. In announcing the October 2020 bear hunt results, the DNR positioned the hunt as a success, stating, “What’s not captured in harvest information are the countless memories made among families and friends and all the hours spent outside taking in Wisconsin’s wonderful outdoors. The bear hunting tradition in Wisconsin is very strong, and interest in the activity continues to grow.”
Yet for the same harvest quota overage of 10% for wolves this February, Eric Lobner, DNR wildlife director, stated, “Should we, would we, could we have (closed the season) sooner? Yes. Did we go over? We did. Was that something we wanted to have happen? Absolutely not.”
Wolves are strong, smart and vicious predators. They are not endangered. The gray wolf population is alive and well and has been consistently increasing. Wolves are to be respected and revered. But too many of any species — particularly predators — can wreck the entire ecosystem. Sound scientific wildlife management is critical to conservation and sustainability of a species.
In a brief on wildlife sustainability, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies explained, “When well-regulated, the use of abundant wildlife is sustainable and ecologically sound. Using wildlife sustainably not only ensures that future generations will continue to benefit from these resources, but also that wildlife populations will remain in balance with the environment.”
In Wisconsin, the population became unmanaged and overpopulated, resulting in a population nearly four times the Department of Natural Resource’s goal. Moreover, wolf attacks had increased by 70% since 2014. That isn’t just a statistic, it is Wisconsinites’ cattle and livelihoods being destroyed, family dogs being devoured on the front porch and in backyards, and worse.
Swift and immediate action was clearly needed to manage the wolf population in Wisconsin, which is still significantly higher than what the DNR dictates it should be. The DNR estimated the current wolf population to be about 1,195 wolves, and the state goal for the population is 350 wolves.
It’s important to note as well that the population estimate of 1,195 wolves in Wisconsin is a minimum count. That’s why the wolf hunt lasted just 39 hours, because we have significantly more wolves than the DNR thought we had.
At minimum, the wolf population still stands at just under 1,000 wolves, still close to three times the state goal.
Hilgemann, of Marshfield, is CEO of Hunter Nation, a nonprofit advocating for responsible predator management and protecting the right to hunt: hunternation.org.