Following the federal delisting of wolves by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Jan. 4 under the Trump Administration, Republican legislators, their rural constituents and hunting groups alike have called for the state’s first wolf hunt since 2014.
But after four hours of rigorous and emotional public testimony, proponents of the hunt ended up biting the bullet.
At Friday's emergency meeting of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, members resisted Republican lawmakers who urged for an immediate wolf hunt to begin this month, ending with a vote of 4-3 against a motion for a hunt to start in January. Members of the board received generous testimony and feedback from wildlife enthusiasts and Native Americans alike, with tribal representatives expressing significant concern that they were not adequately consulted before the motion was proposed per treaty rights.
“The Menominee tribe is expecting to be included in the dialogue and in the decision making related to Wisconsin’s response to wolf management,” Douglas Cox, vice chairperson of the Menominee tribe, said. “We offer our collective hand to the Wisconsin NRB, the DNR and the Wisconsin legislature.”
Tribal representatives present at the meeting condemned the hunt due to the lack of communication between tribes and the state government. Marvin Defoe, representative of the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, stated that his band was told on Dec. 4 that a wolf hunt would take place in November of 2021, with the next communication received from the state being forty hours prior to the meeting of the board.
Defoe also made it clear that the Chippewa were opposed to a hunt at any time due to cultural hunting practices, stating that the wolf, or ma'iingan, is viewed as their close brother. They care for their wolf packs and do not manage them through hunting.
“It is based on our traditional science, from our elders, that whatever you shoot, you eat,” said Defoe. “I’ve never eaten a ma'iingan.”
Wisconsin state law mandates that after a species is delisted, there must be one annual hunting season from Oct. 15 to the last day of February. The DNR announced in Dec. 2020 that the hunt would resume in Nov. 2021, after they update the wolf management plan, reconvene their wolf committee, set a kill quota and offer drawings for tags.
However, officials cited concerns regarding accurate scientific data and time needed to set quotas for an immediate hunt.
Supporters of immediate wolf hunt have called the rising population of wolves an emergency for the depredation of livestock. They cited the wolf management plan that was written in 1999 that set a goal of 350 individual wolves throughout the state. However, the population of wolves in 1999 was only 250. Ongoing surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimate Wisconsin’s current wolf population to be around 1,000.
This serves as a stark contrast to the estimated 5,000 wolves that roamed Wisconsin in the 1800s.
The Chair of the NRB, Frederick Prehn, was disappointed that the DNR did not move faster since they were given notice of the wolf’s delisting. However, he was the deciding vote to reject board member Gregory Kazmierski’s motion to direct the DNR to harvest 22% of the minimum estimates of the Wisconsin wolf populations after the DNR attorney stated that this motion may not be legal without consulting tribes before setting quotas for the wolf hunt.
There was an additional concern from those that spoke in support of the hunt that the Biden administration may take action to once again list the wolf species as endangered, therefore protecting them before a regularly scheduled hunt can take place this November.
Republican legislators including State Senator Dan Feyen and Rob Stafsholt and U.S. Representative Tom Tiffany and registered their support of having the immediate hunt while there is still time left this winter.
“Some people will say that we don’t have time to implement a season for January to February of 2021,” Stafsholt added. “That is their own fault for sitting on their hands and doing absolutely nothing in preparation for the Wisconsin wolf season.”
On the other side of the argument, wildlife activists commented that the hunt is unnecessary and could disrupt the breeding season which begins in January and ends in March. Others registered against the hunt altogether, citing the majestic nature of the wolf and its right to hunt and live in the Great Lake region. Environmental groups including the Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, National Parks Conservation Association and The Humane Society of the United States have already notified the DNR of their intent to sue.
In 2014, environmental and animal rights activists went so far as to target Wisconsin’s annual wolf hunting season, interfering with the hunt by following hunters and investigating potentially illegal kills.
Farmers and residents from northern Wisconsin spoke on past struggles with the growing wolf population. Others cited concerns of the depredation of livestock needing to be reimbursed by the DNR, which the department estimated as over 2.5 million dollars spent to compensate farmers for the loss of livestock as a result of wolf attacks over the last three decades.
Dairy farmer Ryan Klussendorf from Medford spoke about his conflicts with wolves on his property in the past decade. He told the board that he has had multiple animals killed by wolves throughout the years and has received no help in resolving the problem, even as residents in the area were afraid to have their children wait for buses because wolves would stalk them.
“I’m not an expert on wolves,” Klussendorf stated. “But I am an expert on how one pack of wolves can torment you, threaten your livelihood and haunt you until you want to give up.”
By the end of the emergency meeting, over forty witnesses spoke and over 1,000 citizens submitted written statements concerning the proposed hunt.
Timothy Van Deelen, a UW-Madison Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and expert in conservation and management of large mammals, holds that while the board was right to hold off on a hunt now, much work will need to be done in updating the wolf management plan before the next hunt. Quotas should be set based on need, not numbers, as the wolf population is not likely to keep expanding significantly.
“It looks like their growth rate is starting to slow down; the pack can only get so large. This is a population that will never blow up,” he said.
Van Deelen stated that more thought should be given to the impact the population is having on surrounding areas before a quota is determined. The updated wolf management plan should be well-researched, based on scientific analysis and thoroughly vetted.
Still, tribal representatives demonstrated a resistance to holding a wolf hunting season entirely, even with a properly prepared hunt, conversations between the tribes and DNR and updated quotas this fall.
“The Menominee tribe is opposed to the hunting and trapping of wolves in Wisconsin, more specifically, within the exterior boundaries of the Menominee reservation,” Cox said. “We do so because the wolf is of significant value to our Menominee culture, our tradition and to the biological life within the forest.”
While the possibility of a hunt this upcoming winter remains uncertain, wolf permit applications will be sold from March through Aug. 1, with a drawing to be held in mid-August.