GOP legislators ready bill calling for wolf population goal
A pair of Republican legislators circulated a bill Friday that would require Wisconsin wildlife officials to establish a new population goal for wolves in the state in their next management plan.
The state Department of Natural Resources has operated since 1999 under a wolf management plan that limits the statewide population to 350 animals.
As the number of wolves in the state has increased — DNR estimates released in September put the statewide population at about 1,000 wolves — hunters have pointed to that number as justification for setting generous quotas during the state's fall wolf season. Animal advocates, however, argue the population isn't strong enough to support hunting and wolves are too beautiful to kill.
The DNR released a draft of a new management plan in November that doesn't include any specific population number. The draft plan instead calls for the DNR to work with advisory committees to monitor local populations and decide whether to reduce them, maintain them or allow them to grow.
State Rep. Chanz Green, of Grandview, and Sen. Rob Stafsholt, of New Richmond, began circulating a bill for co-sponsorship on Friday that would require the DNR to include a statewide population goal in its new plan.
Stafsholt said in a telephone interview that it was a “complete shock" to farmers and hunters that the draft plan doesn't include a statewide population goal.
“I want the DNR to use science to come up with what the current population is and ... we can have the discussion, argue about what that goal should be," he said. "It's not for the Legislature to decide what that number should be. This bill simply says we have to have a population goal to know which direction we should be managing the population.”
Stafsholt rejected the notion that the bill is designed to give hunters an argument for higher quotas, saying the DNR has always imposed tight limits on how many wolves hunters can kill each season.
Wisconsin law mandates a wolf season but last year a federal judge restored endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the country, including Wisconsin. The move prohibits hunting the animals.
The last wolf hunt in Wisconsin was held in February 2021. The DNR set the quota for non-tribal hunters at 119 animals. Hunters blew past that limit, killing 218 wolves in just four days before the DNR could shut down the season.
Green aide Carson Lee didn't immediately respond to an after-hours email Friday seeking an interview with the legislator. Aides to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu also didn’t immediately respond to emails inquiring about the bill’s prospects.
DNR officials are in the midst of revising the plan in response to public comments. It's unclear when a final version will be released. Agency spokesperson Katie Grant declined to comment.
Stafsholt said he hasn't spoken to either Vos or LeMahieu's offices about the bill but he's optimistic about its chances, saying Republican leadership often defers to caucus members with outdoors experience.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' office didn't immediately respond to an after-hours email.