The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday it will shut down its current wolf hunting season on Wednesday as hunters and trappers exceeded quotas set for the wolf harvest across the state.
Zones 2, 5 and 6 — closed Wednesday at 10 a.m. while zones 1, 3 and 4 will close at 3 p.m.
As of noon Wednesday at least 162 wolves had been registered, far exceeding the goal of 119, with more time left for registrations. Hunters in two zones killed more than double the DNR's harvest quota goal.
The season, which started Feb. 22, was set to run through Feb. 28 or until the statewide quota of 119 wolves harvested by state-licensed hunters and trappers was met, whichever came first. Zone 1 had a quota of 31 wolves, with 18 for zone 2, 20 for zone 3, six for zone 4, 27 for zone 5 and 17 for zone 6.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials said they received 27,151 applications for 2,380 available permits that were issued Monday. Successful applicants had to check the status and pay their $49 resident license fee and print their licenses before they could begin hunting or trapping Monday.
A state court judge ruled Feb. 11 that the DNR must hold a hunt under an existing state law that calls for wolf hunting and trapping each year between October and February.
Federal authorities dropped Endangered Species Act protections for wolves as of Jan. 4, and while the DNR wanted to wait until November to hold the state's first wolf season since 2014, the judge’s order forced the agency’s hand.
A DNR request to the state Court of Appeals to stay the lower court order and stop the hunt was denied late Friday.
The DNR originally set a quota of 4,000 permits and 200 wolves to be killed by state-licensed hunters and trappers during the current seven-day season. But that quota was reduced to 119 wolves after remaining wolf permits were reserved for Native American tribal members based on treaty hunting and fishing rights. Tribal authorities had argued against a wolf hunt, saying wolves are sacred to their culture. It’s believed permits reserved for tribes will not be used.
Supporters say the immediate wolf hunt is necessary to cull some of the state’s estimated 1,100 wolves as their numbers continue to grow and as problems occur with livestock depredation. Several hunting groups also want wolf numbers reduced to slow depredation on deer.
Critics, however, say the hunt was hastily organized and comes at a time of winter that could disrupt wolf breeding season and could disrupt pack hierarchy, causing more conflict with livestock and pets, not less.
So far, Minnesota has not moved on a wolf hunting or trapping season, although dueling bills have been introduced in the state Legislature: one ordering the DNR to hold a wolf season and another prohibiting the DNR from holding a wolf season.
This story was updated at 3:25 p.m. Feb. 23 to report the scheduled closure of the other three wolf hunt zones and again at 2:24 p.m. Feb. 24 to update the wolf harvest total. It was originally posted at 10:53 a.m. Feb. 23.