Wildlife officials have closed half of the state’s wolf hunting zones after hunters and trappers surpassed 100 wolf kills, which could mean Wisconsin’s inaugural organized wolf hunt season may end soon.
According to a statement, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources closed a wolf hunt zone Sunday in the northwest part of the state, bordering Lake Superior. The DNR has also closed two of the other six wolf hunt zones in the state.
As of Friday, hunters and trappers had killed 101 wolves of the 116 wolf quota, with 57 percent of wolves taken by trappers, according to DNR data. The season continues through the end of February or until hunters and trappers reach the limit.
“This is Wisconsin’s inaugural season,” Kurt Thiede, DNR Lands Division Administrator said in the statement. “We are learning much about hunter and trapper success rates that will help us draft permanent rules that continue to move the wolf population down toward levels in line with social carrying capacity.”
Tim Van Deelen, University of Wisconsin forest and wildlife ecology professor, said the initial results of the season show hunters are very effective in killing wolves. He said this season will serve as a trial run for future harvest seasons.
Van Deelen said the hunt was a modest first hunt. He also said he saw no convincing evidence hunters need dogs to catch wolves in the state.
“I think common sense shows we don’t need dogs to catch wolves,” Van Deelen said.
Under the legislation passed last spring, hunters could use dogs to hunt wolves in the state. However, a group of humane societies sued, alleging the use of dogs could lead to deadly wolf and dog confrontations. A judge issued a temporary injunction in August on dog use.
Carl Schoettel, vice president of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association, said the success of the wolf hunt season without dogs has nothing to do with the lawsuit.
“It’s about hunters’ rights. The current rules discriminate,” Schoettel said. “We’re allowed to hunt coyotes with dogs. This is no different.”
However, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed a brief Thursday with the court involved in the dog hunting case in support of the humane societies.
Stacy Wolf, vice president and chief counsel of the ASPCA’s Legal Advocacy and Humane Law Enforcement departments, said by not imposing restrictions on the use of dogs in the hunt, the DNR violated Wisconsin’s animal cruelty and fighting laws.
“We believe that the decision in this case could have far reaching effects on how laws involving hunting practices are interpreted in the future,” Wolf said in an email to The Badger Herald.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could also face a lawsuit asking for the re-listing of the wolves. In an Oct. 15 statement, the United States Humane Society said they filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue for relisting under the Endangered Species Act.
The statement said Wisconsin’s “reckless plan” to hunt and trap wolves, combined with illegal killing and vehicle collisions, could kill half of the state’s wolf population.
Still, Schoettel said the high numbers of wolves in the state show the species should not be relisted. He said the arguments for relisting wolves are based more on emotion, not on the recommendations of state biologists.