DNR says wolf population dropped 14% after hunt
Wisconsin’s wolf population fell to 972, a decline of 14%, after the controversial wolf hunt in February of last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The DNR announced its population estimate in a meeting of the Natural Resources Board on Wednesday. The hunt, which drew condemnation from conservationists, biologists and the state’s Native American tribes, exceeded the 200-wolf quota, split evenly between hunters and the state’s Ojibwe tribes.
Critics worried that the hunt would destabilize the wolf population in the state, but Randy Johnson, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist, said the agency’s estimate indicates the population is stable.
The DNR planned to hold the hunt in November of 2021 but it was scheduled for February after a lawsuit from hunting advocacy group Hunter Nation led a Jefferson County judge to rule that a hunt must occur earlier than initially planned. Hunters killed 218 wolves in three days.
Now, the DNR estimates that the state’s wolf population is between 812 and 1,193, with the most likely number being 972. Johnson told the board that the number of wolf packs in the state changed very little after the hunt, just that the size of the packs decreased. Prior to the hunt, estimates put the state’s wolf population at around 1,100 wolves.
“Despite that observed decline in wolf population abundance, there are several biological indicators that continue to indicate that the Wisconsin wolf population is healthy, biologically secure in the state,” Johnson told the board.
The presence of the wolf in Wisconsin, which has rebounded massively since 2000 when the population was less than 300, is hugely controversial. Farmers, hunters and some of the conservative members of the NRB believe there are too many wolves, citing attacks on livestock and pets.
The DNR reimburses people when livestock is killed by a wolf and verified 108 wolf conflicts last year.
In 2021, the state planned to hold a second hunt in November, but several lawsuits from conservationists and the tribes halted it before a federal judge put the gray wolf back on the federal list of endangered species for Wisconsin and several other states, preventing the hunt from happening. State law requires a hunt to be held whenever the wolf isn’t listed as endangered.
Some members of the board took a victory lap in the wolf’s stable population after the criticism it received following its population management decisions over the past year. Wolf population management has been a major factor in the political controversy surrounding the board and one of its member’s refusal to leave it after his term expired.
“The board took a lot of heat over that, and I just wanted to clear the air on that — that the sky didn’t fall entirely with that February hunt,” board member Bill Bruins said.