All Eyes on Wisconsin as Wolf Harvest Quotas are Set for Fall Season

Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager

Highlights

  • Gray Wolves were delisted as an endangered species in 2021 after meeting and exceeding recovery goals established under the Endangered Species Act.
  • The Great Lakes States have exceeded target gray wolf population goals for each of the past 25 years.
  • Wisconsin hosted its first successful wolf hunt, in the region, in February. The possibility of similar hunts in Michigan and Minnesota remains uncertain.

Why it matters: The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created to help species at risk of extinction and whose future is uncertain in the United States. Species on the list are provided with protections and funding for conservation efforts to ensure their recovery. Since its inception, 34 species have been delisted (as of 2016) due to recovery. In recent years, attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist species like grizzly bears and gray wolves are often litigated by environmental groups, and many delisting decisions have been reversed despite these species reaching recovery goals. If a species has met its recovery goal, it should be delisted, and management authority returned to state fish and wildlife agencies who have a long history of successfully managing fish and wildlife populations using the best available science. There are many species on the list that need our attention, and we should not be directing scarce resources to species that, according to the best available research, have recovered.  

Earlier this year, Wisconsin held the Great Lakes Region’s first wolf hunt since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered species list. The delisting has caused Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to review their wolf management plans and to take a deeper look at how to manage the wolf population in their respective states to sustain a healthy wolf population.

Wisconsin law stated that a wolf season would be established when wolves were delisted, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed a hunt in late 2021. However, the state was sued, and a judge ordered that a hunt was to be held in February. The weeklong hunt was cut short after the 119-wolf quota was exceeded in just three days. In August, the DNR asked the Natural Resource Commission to set the fall harvest quota at 130 wolves so that the ramifications of the spring hunts over harvest could be determined. The commission, instead, initially set the harvest quota at 300 wolves, stating that the current wolf population well exceeds the state’s goal of 350 wolves and they had a responsibility to manage the wolf numbers.

Last week the DNR, who by law has the final say on harvest quotas, set the count for the fall season at 130 wolves. Their belief is that the harvest numbers should remain conservative until the ramifications of exceeding the harvest quota during the spring seasons can be determined.

According to the best available science, it is past time to return the management of gray wolves to the state agencies responsible for managing most fish and wildlife within their borders and have done so with tremendous success for more than a century. Doing so will continue to ensure the successful management of wolves and other public trust fish and wildlife resources for the benefit of all Americans. 

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