Republicans call on DNR to propose a wolf population goal in new management plan

Border states like Minnesota and Michigan don’t have a specific number
The issue is complex because farmers say wolves kill livestock and some Native Americans do not want wolves killed at all
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:30 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Republican legislators are calling on the DNR to change the way they plan to manage the wolf population in Wisconsin. On Friday, they circulated a bill that would require wildlife officials to have a new population goal for their next management plan.

UW-Stevens Point’s Director of the Wisconsin Center for Wildlife Scott Hygnstrom said people have always had strong opinions about wolves. For example, some Wisconsin Tribe members have a deep respect for them and believe they should not be killed. On the other hand, some farmers experience chronic conflict influencing their livestock or people have lost their pets. The debate is an ongoing and complicated issue. However, many are speaking up about possible changes to wolf management in Wisconsin.

Since 1999 the DNR has operated under a plan that limits the wolf population to 350 animals statewide. “350 was provided in the 1990s and we have more information since then,” said Hygnstrom.

There’s no longer a specific number the DNR considers in their latest proposed new management plan draft. Minnesota and Michigan don’t have one either, and it’s an issue some believe is more complex than a single number.

“I’m okay with the idea of managing wolves at a sustainable level that’s environmentally and ecologically sound. that is at a level we can co-exist with and you notice I didn’t put a number in there,” said Hygnstrom.

“That bill completely undermines the DNR’s authority to use science to determine how we should manage our wolves,” said Elizabeth Ward, Sierra Club.

The DNR also regulates management when there is a harvest season. “There’s a lot of work that goes into developing that season. looking at how the population is doing, the trends, what is the distribution of wolves in the state,” Randy Johnson, large carnivore specialist, Wisconsin DNR.

Right now wolves are back on the federal endangered species list. That’s after the population fell about 14%, according to the DNR, after the 2021 controversial wolf hunt where the DNR had a quota for non-tribal hunters set at 119. Hunters then killed 218 wolves in just four days before the DNR could shut it down.

“DNR’s current draft wolf management plan really focuses science and tribal input and in doing so acknowledges that you can’t have a population goal that is static. it has to be able to change,” said Ward.

In Wisconsin, there is a state law that whenever wolves are not on that endangered species list there will be state harvest season, bringing out strong opinions. “Ranging from total admiration, not wanting to see any of them harmed or taken or killed, to the other end the other end of the spectrum where people are truly fearful of them and would prefer to see them gone,” said Johnson.

It’s important to look at their impact on the ecosystem, according to Hygnstrom.

“It’s always a balance as far as the number of wolves that should be here. it’s dependant on the habitat that is available, the food that is available the food that is available for them,” said Hygnstrom.

Wolves play a crucial role in our ecosystem, like managing sick animals and helping forests thrive. The DNR predicts we have about a thousand wolves statewide. They estimate 280 to 290 packs with on average four wolves per pack.