Over the past two decades, the Wisconsin wolf population has been managed with one central goal in mind: recovering the species.
The last wolf management plan for the state was passed in 1999. That came at a time when the state’s wolf population numbered only about 100 to 200.
Now, the wolf population is approaching 1,000, according to the latest count. And the Department of Natural Resources is proposing a new plan for managing wolves — one that focuses on long-term sustainability rather than hard numbers.
This new plan would strip the state from a hard population goal, which has been in place for decades.
Randy Johnson is a Large Carnivore Specialist for the DNR. He said the new proposal recognizes the species has recovered and instead focuses on long-term sustainable management for the wolf population.
Under the existing plan from 1999, the state set a population goal of 350 wolves.
Some wolf advocates say that hunters have used that population goal to their advantage. And the fight between animal rights advocates and hunters came to a head last year, when a late-breaking court ruling allowing an earlier hunt resulted in 218 wolves killed — or about 15% of the wolf population — in less than three days.
This new plan will instead create zones and take a regional approach to wolf management.
“The considerations for wolf management are, for example, different in the northern, forested areas of the state that are considered primary, core wolf habitat versus the southern part of the state that is dominated by humans, agriculture and roads,” Johnson said.
Johnson said this new approach will ensure the population stays healthy. It will also address and reduce conflicts, such as when wolves kill livestock, and maximize opportunities for regulated hunting and trapping.
The process for creating this new plan was long, but Johnson said it’s more inclusive of the numerous groups who are impacted by Wisconsin’s wolf population.
The proposal is the product of massive stakeholder feedback, including dozens of organizations, which included tribal representatives and government agency partners.
The DNR also conducted an updated scientific survey of public opinions on the issue of wolf management in Wisconsin as a way to gather more feedback.
“We sent out 8,000 questionnaires across the state — a random sample — so this gives us the ability to make inferences to the population at large,” Johnson said.
The draft of the new wolf management plan is available on the DNR’s wolf management webpage. The deadline to share feedback on the plan is Jan. 10, 2023.
Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash.