The gray wolf has been on and off the federal endangered species list for years. Right now, it’s off the list. But designation on the endangered species list can be politized, and politics have shifted. The Masked Biologist has more about what’s happening with this year’s wolf hunt.
Last week was a crazy week. There was a lot going on, and everything felt rushed. In Washington DC, President Trump rushed to finish some things before he left office, and the same day, President Biden rushed to undo many of the things that his predecessor had done, or left undone.
I led with talking about rushing and politics because, well, whether you realize it or not, natural resource management (at all levels) and political activity are inexorably interlinked. The unavoidable example of the day is the wolf hunting season. There is a rush to action that will impact wolf population management in the state. On November 3rd, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services finalized a rule that removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list, and after the 60-day post-delisting monitoring period, on January 4th, 2021, the gray wolf was officially delisted and the authority to manage Wisconsin’s wolves was moved back to the DNR. What follows is a quote from a Wisconsin Natural Resources Board green sheet:
“The Department is actively working to implement a wolf harvest season beginning November 6, 2021, following a transparent, inclusive process, working through a wolf advisory committee and considering a wide variety of input from stakeholders and tribal consultations. The process will produce a final plan, presented to the Natural Resources Board, that will be based on the best natural resources species management science.”
We have been here before. This is the third federal de-listing I know of for Wisconsin wolves, the most recent occurred on January 27, 2012, after which the DNR organized and implemented three regulated harvest seasons. The quota system requires the state to announce closure of the season each year when the state quota is reached. The state quota is what remains of the available harvest after the state’s six Ojibwa tribes declare how many of the total available permits they want, up to fifty percent. In each of those three years, the harvest hit the quota quickly. In 2012, 117 wolves were harvested in 70 days. In 2013, 257 wolves were taken in the same amount of time. In 2014, it only took 52 days for hunters and trappers to collect 154 wolves.
Now, I am not here to talk about whether we should or should not allow wolf hunting. That decision has already been made. The legislature passed a law requiring the DNR to hold a wolf hunt every year that wolves are not protected by Federal law. So, it stands to reason that we will see a season with a quota, a Tribal declaration, and a drawing prior to the prescribed November 7, 2021 opening day.
Here’s the catch, though. In a letter sent to the Natural Resources Board by 12 elected officials, they stated that “On January 13th, 2021, the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Small Business & Rural Issues and the Assembly Committee on Sporting Heritage held a joint informational hearing to discuss the process of reinstating the wolf harvesting season in 2021. During the hearing, the consensus was that wolves in Wisconsin need to be hunted now.” They also learned from the Legislative Council that due to several groups having already issued a notice of intent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to file a petition to re-list wolves, the future of the wolf hunting season is in question. They stated that the season dates of November 7th, 2020-February 28th, 2021 have not passed, so a hunting season could and should happen immediately. They went on to state that at this meeting they should be ready to provide quotas, application dates, and total number of tags to be issued. So, because of potential legal action to halt killing wolves, there is a push to hold a partial 2020-21 wolf season ASAP. They also suggested that the season be extended into March if the quota is not hit by the prescribed end of the season. The annual wolf population estimate comes from a late winter count, when the population is at its lowest each year (just before pups are born). The last approved population goal, in 1999, was 350 wolves in the state. In 2020, the count was 1,034.
The NRB meeting was to be held last Friday, January 22nd. I had to record this feature the morning prior, so I can’t tell you the outcome. You may already know, or you will know soon. If you are a wolf hunter, this may be good news. The pelts will be prime, and this year the snow is not too deep to walk. There are a lot of wolves out there, and applications and harvest in the past have shown that Wisconsin hunters really enjoy the opportunity to hunt an apex predator.