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Friday, December 08, 2023
Gray Wolf

Courtesy of Gunnar Ries/Wisconsin Public Radio

Gray wolf management in Wisconsin remains a Legislature debacle

An ongoing debate persists between Republicans and the Department of Natural Resources over a management plan for the wolf population in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is set to present their newly revised wolf population management plan to the Natural Resources Board during their October meeting — a plan that still faces opposition from the Republican-backed Senate Committee of Financial Institutions and Sporting Heritage

The DNR’s updated plan continues to advise an adaptive approach toward wolf population management rather than setting a firm numerical quota. The plan “turns its attention from wolf recovery to long-term stewardship and sustainable management of wolves in the state,” the DNR said in an August press release.

The plan outlines six central objectives. 

The first goal is to ensure a healthy and sustainable wolf population to fulfill its ecological role. The second objective aims to reduce wolf-related conflict. 

The third and fourth goals include promoting wildlife tourism and sporting as well as strengthening public education about wolves in Wisconsin. 

The fifth objective is to conduct scientific research toward wolf stewardship, and the sixth goal is to present future science-based wolf management in Wisconsin. 

“This plan comes from years of dedicated effort and careful consideration, is flexible, actionable, and most importantly, outlines a path toward responsible and sustainable wolf management. I am thankful to everyone who contributed, reviewed the plan or submitted a comment,” DNR Secretary Adam Payne said in the August press release

The DNR has faced opposition from the Senate Committee of Financial Institutions and Sporting Heritage, who have pushed to set a firm lower quota of wolves statewide. 

The committee introduced a bill in March to establish a statewide wolf population management plan. The plan does not provide a specific number.

Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-Richmond, who introduced the bill alongside Rep. Chanz Green, R-Grand View, took issue with the lack of a number. 

“We should all agree that knowing how many wolves we have and how many we agree to maintain is good for wolves and good for residents of Wisconsin living with the implications of wolves,” Stafsholt testified in a September hearing.

Farmers, hunters and GOP legislators who didn’t endorse the DNR’s adaptive plan favored the bill, according to the Associated Press

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George Meyer, executive director at Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in September that implementing a numerical standard is a better management strategy. 

"It's not just the biological carrying capacity but [also] the social capacity, which means that everyone is listening to what's necessary to protect people being damaged by the species," Meyer told the Journal Sentinel. "You can reduce the current numbers and most importantly, you won't have citizens damaged by a wildlife species you're supposed to manage responsibly."

The DNR defines 800 to 999 wolves as a stable statewide population that allows for growth, according to the revised plan.

Groups such as the environmental grassroots organization Sierra Club agreed with the DNR’s approach to Wisconsin’s wolves. The Sierra Club highlighted the various benefits that follow the DNR taking the lead on wolf management in the state. 

“The current management plan from 1999 that recommends only 350 wolves is outdated and poorly thought out, making it ill-equipped to benefit this ecosystem,” according to The Sierra Club Wisconsin Chapter.  

Furthermore, “the revised version also maintains an emphasis on ongoing wolf population monitoring and collaboration with other agencies, Tribal Nations, stakeholder groups and the public,” the DNR said.

The DNR hosted an open house on their updated wolf management plan on Oct. 2 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Northwood Technical College and will host one on Oct. 3 at UW-Stevens Point at the same time.

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