On October 29th, 2020 federal officials announced the latest delisting of gray wolves from endangered and threatened wildlife protections, once again placing wolves under state, not federal management in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The announcement came after years of political pressure from state legislators sympathetic to the gun and trophy hunting lobby in Wisconsin and other states.
Wolves in the Great Lakes came back under federal protection in December 2014, after having been returned to state management in 2012. Wisconsin conducted three recreational wolf seasons in 2012-14. In the three years wolves were trapped, shot or hunted with dogs, over 500 wolves were legally killed by licensed hunters in Wisconsin.
The recent delisting by U.S. Fish & Wildlife means that barring any legal action (which is highly anticipated) wolves can once again be legally hunted in Wisconsin. In recent years, a mandatory recreational wolf hunt was legislated by the state, stating that anytime wolves are under state management, the state’s Department of Natural Resources must facilitate a public wolf hunt, including with the use of hounds.
Despite Wisconsin’s wolf hunt law stating that any such hunt must begin in November, it has been reported that some state legislators as well as members of the Natural Resources Board are exploring ways to conduct a wolf hunt the moment federal protections are legally lifted on January 4, 2021.
Some of Wisconsin’s lawmakers don’t even want to wait until the latest gray wolf delisting becomes law in January 2021, they would like to see a return to the recreational killing of wolves starting immediately. Just one day after the federal decision to delist was publicized, Republican state representative Rob Stafsholt (since elected to the state senate representing northwestern Wisconsin) responded, stating:
“I have been working on wolf issues in Wisconsin for close to 20 years, long before I was in the Legislature. The most frustrating thing regarding our wolf population was watching as people from as far away as Florida thought they knew how to manage Wisconsin’s wolves better than our own biologists, farmers, and sportsmen and women. I am thrilled to see the role of managing our wolf population is now back in Wisconsin’s hands. Therefore, I am calling on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to implement a 2020 harvest season for wolves in Wisconsin.”
Stafsholt is a former member of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, which has long pushed for delisting as well as a member and supporter of other proponents of wolf hunting such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, Safari Club International, U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance and the National Rifle Association.
On November 2, 2020 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin’s DNR wildlife staff would meet very soon with the agency’s legal team and the DNR Secretary’s Office to determine the next steps for wolf management in the state, including a hunting season.
According to the DNR’s Wolf hunting webpage,
“All wolf management, including hunting, will be conducted in a transparent and deliberative process, in which public and tribal participation will be encouraged…Until delisting takes effect, it remains unlawful to shoot a wolf unless there is an immediate threat to human safety. Following the delisting effective date, the DNR may implement all abatement measures as applicable to each situation, which may include lethal control.”
Wisconsin also needs to update it’s 20 year-old wolf management plan which it has promised will include a diversity of conservation groups, tribal representatives, farmers and wolf advocates to help guide state management. In the past, then DNR Director Cathy Stepp was responsible for removing members of the Wolf Advisory Committee opposed to recreational wolf hunting.
Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board (NRB) sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources and according to its website exercises authority and responsibility in accordance with state laws. Next month’s meeting of the NRB is not for the purpose of discussing Wisconsin’s legal obligation to conduct a wolf hunt, but it will be the last time the board meets before the federal delisting of wolves becomes law again on January 4th, 2021.
Here’s the link to the agenda for the 12/09/20 NRB meeting:
Since the COVID pandemic, NRB meetings are conducted remotely and still available for live viewing and prepared testimony by members of the public. If you’d like to see what a Wisconsin NRB meeting looks like, here’s the link to past 2020 meetings:
This is the opportunity for wolf advocates and opponents of Wisconsin’s hound hunt for wolves to respectfully remind Natural Resources Board members that responsible state management begins with an updated wolf management plan and equal representation on any wolf advisory committees. Current committee members have supported a statewide wolf population of just 350 animals, which was the initial goal during wolf recovery efforts in the 1980’s.
The current estimated population of wolves in Wisconsin according to the DNR is just over 1,200 animals which is believed by some wolf biologists to indicate that the predators have reached a stable and healthy population in available habitat.
Citizens have until December 2, 2020 to register to give three minutes of testimony at the December 9th, NRB meeting via Zoom. This is also the deadline for providing written testimony or handouts to NRB members for the meeting.
Email or call the Board Liaison Office now to register to speak on 12/09/20:
Laurie.Ross@wisconsin.gov or 608-267-7420
Please join Wolf Patrol on December 9th and help us remind state wildlife officials that the responsibility of managing Wisconsin’s wolves deserves equal representation and decisions based on sound science, not political pressure from elected officials and trophy hunting lobbyists.