Wisconsin Wolf Hunting Season Opens in October

Wolves may adorn the Wisconsin Endangered Resources license plate, but they no longer get much protection off state roads.

It is estimated that there are over 850 wolves in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Act 169 established a wolf hunting and trapping season from Oct. 15 through Feb. 28 where 116 wolves can be harvested. Photo by Len Villano.

Wisconsin’s first wolf hunting season begins in October, marking the animals’ transition from an endangered species to wild game.

“Wolves have been on the endangered list for a lot of years, so a lot of people were concerned and spent a lot of time and money to help them recover,” said Dick Baudhuin, a Sturgeon Bay resident who’s on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “They can’t see letting go and letting what was an endangered animal now become a game animal.”

Wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota were taken off the federal endangered species list in December 2011 when the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service estimated their population in the three states was over 4,000.

The population is now estimated over 850 in the state. Wisconsin Act 169 was enacted in April 2012, creating a wolf hunting and trapping season from Oct. 15 through Feb. 28. Only 116 wolves can be harvested during the season.

The Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan, passed in 1999, set the management goal for the number of wolves in the state to 350. The hunting season is meant to bring the state’s wolf population back down to that number, which the Department of Natural Resources established as a good number to balance the benefits wolves provide to the ecosystem and the threat they pose to livestock and pet owners.

Wolves are top predators in an ecosystem, meaning they have no predators of their own and eat large herbivores like deer, and other small carnivores. By keeping their prey’s populations in balance, they prevent their prey from eating too many of their favorite plants and animals.

“The consequence of having wolves on the landscape is that we don’t have overwhelming herbivory, overwhelming consumption of plants,” said Adrian Treves, associate professor at The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW – Madison and founder of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab. “The plant community can become more diverse.”

Tim Van Deelen, assistant professor of forestry and wildlife ecology at UW – Madison, said Wisconsin wolves haven’t yet been able to impact the state’s huge deer population.

While some hunters are concerned that wolves will eat enough deer to affect deer hunting, Van Deelen said wolves will help keep the herd healthy by killing old, sick and weak deer.

But wolves’ eating habits aren’t all good. Although they mostly eat wild animals, wolves have been known to prey on livestock and pets too. Depredation, when one animal kills another, is a big concern for many Wisconsin residents who live in developed places of the wolf range.

“They’re killing horses, they’re killing cattle,” Baudhuin said. “They’re killing red-blooded things that they can eat, and they’re good at it.”

Baudhuin lost two hunting hounds to wolves in Marinette County.

Adrian Wydeven, DNR carnivore ecologist, said opening hunting is one way the state is trying to combat the number of depredations. The state was split into six zones based on wolf range, and each zone has a quota for how many wolves can be harvested. Zones with more farms were given a higher quota as a way to keep wolves out of agricultural and developed areas.

Door County is in Zone 6, which is considered an unsuitable range for wolves. Although he said there are some wolves in the county, Baudhuin doubts anyone will hunt wolves in Door County because there are so few of them.

Still, some scientists worry that not enough research has been done before the hunting season to see how it will affect the state’s wolf population.

Treves and Van Deelen said it’s possible that if an alpha wolf were killed the rest of the pack would break up. Those wolves would have more trouble surviving as individuals and may turn to livestock for easy prey.

“Lone wolves tend to get shunted into the more marginal habitat, which in Wisconsin would be habitat that has a higher component of agriculture,” Van Deelen said.

Van Deelen thinks a wolf hunt can be used to manage wolves and hopes it’s done in a way to decrease depredation.

Treves said the wolf population doesn’t need to be controlled until it’s actually overpopulated and running into problems finding food or habitat.

“We don’t know the unintended consequences of some of the methods that are going to be used,” Treves said. “There’s a chance they actually increase depredation and make the problem worse.”

Wolves that have attacked pets or farm animals are trapped and euthanized, but Treves said there are non-lethal ways to keep wolves off of farms. Farmers could put up tall, barbed wire or electric fences, keep livestock closer to a house, train guard dogs and put up flandries – or brightly-colored flags that deter wolves.

Public opinion plays a big role in how wolves are managed. The DNR has to balance the ecosystem value of wolves with the threats wolves pose to livestock, hunting hounds and pets.

“Wolves will only be able to exist on a landscape if people accept their presence,” Wydeven said.

Wisconsin Wolf Policy Survey Changing Attitudes 2001-2009, a survey done by Treves, Tory Shelley and Lisa Naughton, found that in 2009, 30 percent of people living in Wisconsin’s wolf range opposed wolf conservation, 21 percent believed there should be no wolves in Wisconsin, and 12.7 percent believed there should be no cap placed on Wisconsin’s wolf population.

But the opinions of farmers and pet owners living in the wolf range aren’t the only ones that matter. Sue Erickson, public information director for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), said the tribes oppose the wolf hunt.

The GLIFWC represents Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Wisconsin tribes were given 85 permits by the DNR, but Erickson said the tribes didn’t ask for them and don’t intend to harvest any wolves.

Erickson said the tribes want to see wolves restored to ecological balance in nature. Wolves – ma’iigan – are seen as a brother to the original people – Ashinaabe.

A prophecy says that whatever happens to the wolf will happen to the American Indian.

“There is a really deep-seeded feeling of a relationship to the wolf,” Erickson said. “There are some serious concerns about this hunt going forward.”