Wisconsin may have the first wolf hunt in a state east of the Mississippi River this year, which supporters say could help control a growing wolf population, while opponents say the hunt could put the gray wolf back on the endangered species list.
On April 2, Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that would establish a gray wolf hunt from Oct. 15 to the end of February, following the wolf’s delisting from the endangered and threatened species list last January.
Walker said in the statement that the law allows the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to control the growing wolf population, which has grown from 25 wolves in 1980 to more than 800 in the last year.
“The swelling wolf population has created a hardship for many farmers and homeowners,” Walker said in the statement. “The DNR is ready to put the rules in place that will allow them to reduce the herd to a healthy, sustainable level.”
According to the law, hunters will be able to hunt wolves at night and use a pack of no more than six dogs to track or trail wolves following the end of the deer hunting season. Hunters will also be able to bait wolves as long as the bait does not use animal parts or byproducts. They may also use crossbows and traps that use cable restraints.
Vice President of United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Andy Pantzlaff said gray wolves are living in non-traditional wolf areas of Wisconsin and will continue to grow.
“Hunting and trapping is the only way to keep the wolf population in check,” Pantzlaff said.
He said while the DNR has not said how many permits they plan to issue yet, they will most likely keep the number of permits low as to not endanger the wolf population.
While understanding the state needs to manage the wolf population, Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, said the law as is could be too “extreme.”
“I think the bill is extreme with its night hunting and hunting during their reproductive season. To go from endangered to a hunt like this could lead to relisting,” Hulsey said.
Pantzloff said the bill is “conservative” enough to prevent the species from being relisted. He said wolves are generally nocturnal. By hunting with dogs, he said wolves would eventually grow afraid of dogs.
Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, said it is now up to the members of the sporting community to make sure the law goes into effect appropriately and the ability of the state to maintain the wolf population does not go into overuse.
Hulsey said lawsuits have been filed in states with less “extreme” wolf hunt laws. During the public hearing, he said he heard from several scientists that a lawsuit could be a possibility.
While Molepske would not comment on the possibility of a lawsuit, he did say if people are not satisfied with the law, the state should review it.
“The bigger issue is this species has historical, cultural and other specifics which make management of the population very special,” Molepske said. “So all parties should be happy with the bill, and if not, they should review the law to make changes.”