Image from the WI Department of Natural Resources website
Image from the WI Department of Natural Resources website

Nearly double the allotment of wolves were killed, even after tribal leaders decided not to hunt their portion.

Wisconsin’s gray wolf hunt was a perfect storm of factors that resulted in 216 wolves being killed, 82% above the quota set at 119 by wildlife officials.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had not planned on holding a wolf hunt this season and instead had begun planning for one this fall. Wolf seasons typically run from November until the end of February, so when the Trump administration delisted the gray wolf on Jan. 4, the DNR argued there was not enough time to organize a hunt this season. 

Wildlife advocates also argued that February is breeding season for wolves, which raises concerns that hunters killing pregnant females could have an outsized impact on the population. 

But the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), a conservative legal organization acting on behalf of Hunter Nation, Inc., a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the DNR claiming their decision to wait until next fall violated state law. Jefferson County Judge Bennett Brantmeier ordered the DNR to implement a hunt before the end of February.

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The initial quota set by the DNR was 200, but was reduced to 119 after five of the state’s Ojibwe tribes claimed their rightful 50% of the quotas within their territories. Over 1,400 permits were sold out of the 2,380 made available. 

DNR officials during a press conference on Thursday pointed out that making that many permits available was unusual and may have been a factor in hunters overtaking the quota. Typically the department makes only ten times more permits available than the quota, but this year it was closer to 20-times.

Officials also said weather may have also been a factor. The season launched on Monday morning when there was fresh snow on the ground, making the animals easier to track. 

Eric Lobner, the DNR’s wildlife management director, said it was not a lack of diligence that led to the quota being exceeded.. 

“We were monitoring that harvest constantly and had everybody working hard to stay on top of what was going on,” Lobner said.

Initially the number of animals killed came in slowly, Lobner said, with only nine kills reported on Monday. But by 10 a.m. Tuesday morning the DNR decided to close half of the zones as the number jumped to 48. The second half were closed by 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. Hunters are given 24 hours to report kills so final numbers were not available until late on Wednesday. 

Fifty-four percent of the wolves killed were male and 46% were female. Eighty-six percent were taken by hunters with dogs, 5% by trappers and 9% by other hunting methods.

Tribes choose conservation

Charlie Otto Rasmussen, a representative from the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), which regulates hunting, fishing, and gathering on tribal lands in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, said the tribes decided not to hold a wolf hunt. Instead they plan to keep their share of the quota as live wolves. 

The lawsuit that required the DNR to hold a hunt does not apply to the tribal lands of the Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Menominee, and Red Cliff.

“There’s a lot of reasons why a hunt is really antithetical from the tribe’s point of view for cultural reasons and for spiritual reasons,” said Rasmussen. “For the idea of a harvest to be out of need. Tribes are not supporters of trophy hunting.”

Rasmussen said the tribes were also concerned with how the hunt was organized this year. The tribes were not consulted, which is required by law, and they are concerned that hunters were able to exceed the quota.

“Tribes have a very tight control and work very hard to stay within their quota limits,” Rasmussen said. “In this case, the state has really failed to stay within the quota limits that they established for themselves. That’s a big concern.”

Neither the DNR nor GLIFWC were ready to comment on whether there will be a wolf hunt next season, since they would first need to see what impact this shortened season has had on the population.

[Note: This story has been been edited to remove language about bear hunting.]