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Next WI Wolf Hunt Blocked for Remainder of Season

The grey wolf was removed from the federal endangered species list in January.
Jim Cumming
Adobe Stock
The grey wolf was removed from the federal endangered species list in January.

A Wisconsin court has effectively ended any chance of a winter wolf hunt in the state.

A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued earlier this year to stop the hunt, which originally was set to begin in November and was put on hold while the case was in court. The court schedule indicates a final decision likely won't come until next spring, after the window to host a wolf hunt closes.

Melissa Smith, executive director of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, one of the groups that sued to block the hunt, called it a victory for conservationists and hunters.

"We do not believe hunters are on the other side of this issue," she said. "Hunters are with us. Real hunters don't kill wolves and real hunters are true conservationists."

Smith said briefings on the lawsuit will proceed through the winter and into the spring. While the scheduling means this year's hunt is effectively over, the fate of a 2022-2023 hunt is up in the air.

Smith said there's still one threat facing Wisconsin's wolves this winter: poachers. She said poaching is an underreported crime, making it difficult to assess its impact on the state's wolf population. But organizations such as hers have seen an increase in social media posts encouraging illegal hunting.

"Poaching is a significant issue," she said. "It always has been, whether wolves are protected federally or not."

Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife and two other wildlife advocacy groups are offering a combined $20,000 reward for information leading to the successful prosecution of poachers. Poaching incidents can be reported on the DNR's phone tip hotline, 800-847-9367.

Researchers still are assessing the impact of February's hunt, which lasted about three days during the wolves' breeding season. Adrian Treves, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founder of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab, said his research indicates holding another hunt this winter could have reduced the wolf population to a critical level.

"We just have never had a hunt in February, and that affected so much of the wolves' reproduction across the state," he said. "Therefore, we're in uncharted territory about how many packs bred, how many pups survived."

During the February hunt, which the Department of Natural Resources was compelled to hold after facing a lawsuit, hunters shot 218 wolves, blowing past their quota of 119.

Jonah Chester is Wisconsin Public Radio's 2022-2023 Mike Simonson Memorial Investigative Reporting Fellow embedded in the Wisconsin Watch newsroom. He most recently worked at Public News Service, a national radio news service, where he covered Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. He previously produced the 6 O'Clock News at WORT 89.9 FM in Madison, where he won numerous awards from the Milwaukee Press Club and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association for his reporting on issues in Dane County and south-central Wisconsin.
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