WILD THINGS: Wisconsin’s Wolf Controversy Is Not Going to Go Away Quietly

Wolf image by Schäferle from Pixabay.

Tuesday’s second virtual gathering of Wisconsin’s Wolf Harvest Advisory Committee was much like what we see in today’s politics: highly polarized, and not a whole lot of meeting in the middle.

Just a day ahead of the five-hour meeting, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that the state’s pre-hunt 2020-21 winter wolf population may have dropped 5% from the record high a year earlier. 

There was an immediate pushback on social media. 

“No way can you harvest 20% of the wolf population in less than three days,” said one commenter. 

The DNR said there were 256 packs outside of tribal lands prior to new litters being born in 2020. Wolf litters average four to six pups, and research has shown that a majority of wolf packs have one or more surviving pups by the following winter. 

Prior to the February hunt, the DNR says its new scaled occupancy model shows there could have been about 1,136 “pack” wolves in the state – not counting lone wolves. That’s down from the previous winter’s estimate of 1,195. 

The possible decrease comes on the heels of what was listed as a 13% increase the previous year. 

The last time Wisconsin had harvest seasons, in 2012-14, 670 wolves were legally taken by state-licensed hunters and trappers, government trappers, and landowners who were authorized to shoot depredating wolves. Yet even with all the legal kills – plus dozens of confirmed wolf kills by vehicles each year, illegal kills, disease, old age and wolves killing other wolves, among other mortality causes – the estimated wolf population fell by a total of just 69 animals between 2012 and 2015.

Meanwhile, the DNR says more than 15,000 usable records came in on wolves during a 30-day public-input period this spring. 

Those with favorable opinions on wolves leaned heavily female, while those with unfavorable opinions leaned heavily male. Although about 90% of the “unfavorable” opinions were from Wisconsin, about half of the “favorable” opinions came from outside the state. Many believe that’s due to orchestrated campaigns by anti-hunting and animal-rights groups, which often use wolves as a poster child in fundraising campaigns. 

The public input also showed that a majority of those in favor of wolves were living outside of suitable wolf habitat, in mainly urban and suburban areas. 

Although there are rural residents who view wolves favorably, past surveys and the most recent public input show that those who live in wolf country are more likely to view wolves unfavorably.

Already this year in northern Wisconsin, the DNR has confirmed that at least four pet dogs have been killed by wolves, along with one injured and one harassed. At least 22 livestock have been confirmed as killed by wolves in northern and central Wisconsin, including beef cattle, dairy cows, horses and goats; and others have been injured.

In addition, more than 225 animals have been involved in verified wolf harassment or threat situations this year as far south as Marquette County.

The DNR is working on a new 10-year wolf-management plan. The current plan sets a minimum population at 350 wolves outside of tribal lands. The agency has already stated that its objective for the fall 2021 season is “no substantive change to the wolf population until a new wolf-management plan has been approved.”

The application for the fall season is open through Aug. 1, and the fee to apply for a limited number of tags is $10. Drawing results will be available by mid-September.

New Marine Sanctuary

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will publish a final rule for the designation of the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, which will take effect following a review by the governor and Congress over a 45-day period of continuous session of Congress.

In 2017, NOAA published draft designation documents for the sanctuary and held a public-comment period. Based on an analysis of public comments and dialogue with the state of Wisconsin, the sanctuary proposal extends from part of Kewaunee County to Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties. 

The Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary spans 962 square miles and will protect 36 historically significant shipwrecks and related maritime-heritage resources. Many of the shipwrecks are largely intact, being well preserved by Lake Michigan’s cold fresh water. Of the 36 wrecks, 21 are on the National Register of Historic Places. The area also includes Wisconsin’s two oldest known shipwrecks, and research suggests there may be 60 additional undiscovered shipwrecks.

The state of Wisconsin will comanage the sanctuary.

It’s Pollinator Week

Gov. Tony Evers has proclaimed June 21-27 Pollinator Week, and the DNR encourages state residents to help bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other pollinators by creating and maintaining supportive habitats.

Populations of some bees and butterflies are declining. That’s bad news because a majority of flowering plants need pollinators to help them reproduce. Pollinators transfer pollen between flowers, which helps to fertilize plants and, thus, produce many of the foods we eat and the crops that benefit our economy. Flowering plants also feed wildlife and support healthy ecosystems that clean the air and stabilize the soil. 

You can create habitat where pollinators can nest and get food by planting native wildflowers, minimizing or eliminating pesticide use and leaving areas unmanicured. Uncut grass, brush piles, woody debris and patches of bare earth are important pollinator habitats.

There’s a lot of great information about creating habitat at

Lake Michigan Water Levels

As of June 18, Lake Michigan was 14 inches above its 100-year monthly average, but 20 inches below last year’s monthly record. Water levels were an inch higher than last month and are projected to be fairly stable during the next month. Lake levels are still 46 inches above the record monthly low, set in 1964.