A bill that would create a wolf hunting season is working its way through the legislature. The proposal has already been passed out of an Assembly Committee with bipartisan support and a public hearing was held today in a Senate Committee.
The bill would require to the DNR to set up a hunt in order to control the wolf population in Wisconsin. The numbers of wolves and wolfpacks in the state has increased steadily in recent years, and the number of negative wolf-human encounters has increased in concert.
The hunting season would run from October 15th to the end of February. The DNR would strictly limit the amount of permits available and would likely use a point system and a lottery to distribute licenses, similar to how they handle bear permits. The hunt would allow hunters to shoot or trap a wolf and would also allow nighttime hunting at certain points in the season.
Many in the legislature are eager to pass this bill because the wolf was recently removed from the endangered species list in Wisconsin by the federal government, and Wisconsin must present a plan to the feds in order to maintain control over the wolf population.
In the past, farmers who lost animals to wolf predation were allowed to apply for a permit that would allow a federal trapper to remove problem animals, but they were not killed. After the delisting the DNR issued special permits to farmers that allowed them to kill problem wolves. Forty-six permits have been issued, and the first wolf was trapped and killed in just the last week.
However, there are plenty who don’t want to see a public wolf hunt. Jodi Habush Sinykin testified the bill is being rushed and the DNR is not even consulting with their own wolf biologists. She does not want the state to allow a statewide hunt on wolves. Instead, she would like to see a focus on areas where the number of wolf depredations on livestock and pets is highest. Habush Sinykin says widespread wolf hunting could cause a larger disruption to the wolf population than just those wolves that are actually killed by hunters. She says a statewide hunt could lead to a crash in the wolf population, putting them back on the endangered species list.
However, many wildlife groups are in support of a public hunt. Farmers and ranchers are definitely in support. The DNR pays farmers for the loss of livestock from wolf attacks, and the amount of money paid out has increased in recent years. In 2011 the DNR paid out $187,000 dollars for wolf depredation. In 2012 that number is expected to be more than $316,000. Even with those dollar figures, many ranchers say the DNR payouts are well below fair market value for the animal, and it does not account for the amount of stress put on a herd by constant wolf pressure.
Decades ago the DNR established 350 wolves as the target population for Wisconsin. They now estimate there are well more than 800 wolves in the state. But the DNR is not willing to say if 350 is still the target, or how many permits they will issue each season.
Judging from the public statements of lawmakers at the Senate hearing, some sort of wolf hunt is likely to pass the legislature with bipartisan support. The exact details of the hunt are still being worked out, but it looks like the season will open this fall.