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Wisconsin had fewer wolves last winter

The DNR says about 972 wolves roamed the state in January, down from 1,150 in 2021.

wolf
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Thursday that its early 2022 winter survey estimated about 972 wolves in the state, down from 1,150 in 2021, just before a controversial wolf hunting and trapping season was held.
Contributed / Wisconsin DNR / iStock/AB Photography
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MADISON — Wisconsin had fewer wolves last winter than the year before, but the big canines remain well-entrenched across northern portions of the state and aren’t in any biological danger.

That was the report Thursday from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources which said the early winter 2022 survey estimates about 972 wolves in the state spread among about 288 packs, down from about 1,150 wolves in early 2021.

“While the wolf population estimate is lower than the previous winter, the current population remains nearly as large and widespread as it has been in recent years,’’ the agency noted in a statement Thursday. “The observed decline does not indicate a wolf population in biological jeopardy."

Multiple population indicators point toward a healthy, secure wolf population in the state, DNR wildlife officials said. The distribution of wolves and the estimated number of packs in the state was similar to past years. The average home range size of wolves this year was estimated at 66 square miles, which is also similar to recent years.

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The 2022 winter tracking surveys did show a decrease in average pack size in all zones from the previous winter. This decrease is consistent with observations following previous wolf hunting and trapping seasons in Wisconsin.

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The survey conducted this past winter is the first close look at the state’s wolf population since a hastily-organized and controversial wolf hunting and trapping season was held in February 2021. That's when trappers and hunters, many using tracking dogs, killed 216 wolves in fewer than 72 hours during the state's first wolf season since 2014. That harvest was 82% above the quota of 119 wolves set by the DNR.

Before the hunt, the DNR estimated the state’s winter 2021 wolf population at about 1,150. That means hunters and trappers took nearly 19% of the state's wolves in three days.

It was the first winter wolf season in state history and held against the wishes of tribal officials, conservation groups and the DNR but on order of the state’s Natural Resources Board. Since then, the board has called for more wolf hunts, but has been thwarted by court action prohibiting any additional hunting or trapping.

The DNR uses data from multiple sources to monitor wolves in Wisconsin. Those include winter snow tracking surveys, tracking several GPS-collared wolves, assessment of dead wolves found and public observation reports. The data collected annually is a result of a significant amount of on-the-ground monitoring, which the department said will continue a critical part of maintaining a sustainable population into the future, the agency noted.

The winter survey was too early int he year to record new pups born this year which may increase the population. Those wolves would show up in the 2023 survey.

Michigan has an estimated 700 wolves in the Upper Peninsula, while Minnesota has about 2,700 wolves, according to the state DNR’s most recent estimate.

Following a federal court ruling in February 2022, gray wolves are listed as an endangered species in most of the lower 48 states, excluding the northern Rocky Mountains region. As such, wolves are federally protected.

Harvest and lethal control are prohibited in Wisconsin and Michigan, but limited federal trapping of wolves is allowed in Minnesota where the animals are listed as threatened.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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