The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Monday announced a scaled-back plan for its November wolf hunting season, reducing the statewide wolf harvest quota to 130 from the previously announced 300 wolves set by the state Natural Resources Board in August.
The DNR plan would authorize 74 of the 130 wolves to state-licensed hunters and leave up to 54 for Native American hunters, although tribal members have argued against holding any wolf season, saying the animals are considered sacred.
To reach a quota of 74 wolves, the DNR plans to issue 370 state licenses which will go on sale Oct. 25.
The season is set to begin Nov. 6 but remains in jeopardy pending an Oct. 29 federal court hearing in Madison. A federal judge is expected to consider a request by six Wisconsin Native American bands to block the state wolf hunt that the bands say was organized in violation of their federal treaty rights. The bands have asked the judge to impose a temporary injunction stopping the hunt until the larger legal issues can be settled. That decision is expected before the Nov. 6 wolf season opening.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal endangered species list on Jan. 4, returning management to state and tribal agencies. But several lawsuits are in play challenging that delisting, with wolf supporters arguing that some states have allowed too much wolf killing, threatening to push the animals back to the brink of extinction.
Several farming and hunting groups support additional wolf hunting, saying the big canine's numbers need to be culled to reduce conflicts with livestock, pets and people. The DNR hunt quotas for wolf zones 1 and 3, which cover most of Northwestern Wisconsin, total 34 wolves.
In a special hunt held in February, state-licensed hunters killed 218 wolves in less than 72 hours, nearly double the 119-wolf quota set by the DNR for non-Native hunters and trappers.
The Wisconsin Natural Resources board generally sets policy for the state resource agency. The 130-wolf quota is what the DNR originally suggested to the Natural Resources Board this summer.
DNR officials said Monday that they are “authorized by state statute and the department’s rules to make the final decision on the quota” for the fall 2021 wolf harvest.
"We are required by statute to manage Wisconsin wildlife scientifically. We applied the best available science to achieve the objective of no change to the population until a new management plan is complete,'' said Sarah Hoye, communications director for the DNR, in a written response. "We considered input from the Wolf Harvest Advisory Committee, as well as from the Natural Resources Board. Although the board voted to have a wolf harvest quota of 300, again, state statute and department regulations authorize the department to make the final decision on the quota and the number of licenses."
"The department is charged with managing the harvest of the wolf population following the best available science and biology. We are also charged with honoring our treaties with Wisconsin’s Ojibwe Tribes,'' Hoye added. "The department is implementing a quota in a manner that meets its responsibilities under the law."
As a state agency the DNR is controlled by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, while the independent Natural Resources Board has been dominated by Republican appointees.