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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says it will resume Wisconsin’s wolf hunt next November.
U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced in October that most gray wolves would be removed from the federal endangered species list across the lower 48 states. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to officially remove protections for gray wolves in January, returning wolf management to states and tribes.
Environmental groups have already notified the agencies they intend to sue to block the change from taking effect. They argue wolves haven't recovered to their historic range across the nation and that federal wildlife officials failed to use the best available science in their decision-making.
State law requires Wisconsin’s wolf hunt to take place when the gray wolf is no longer listed as an endangered species. When not listed as endangered, wolf hunt season typically begins the first Saturday in November and runs through the last day of February.
However, the DNR said Friday that more time is needed to develop a science-based harvest quota and engage the public on the development of a new wolf management plan, said Keith Warnke, administrator of fish, wildlife and parks for the DNR.
"We just decided that we need to work collaboratively with an immense array of partners, and we want to be transparent about taking input on a season," said Warnke. "We want to have plenty of an application period for people so that people who do want to hunt them have a chance to apply."
Warnke said the decision will also give the DNR more time to acquire biological information about wolves over the winter, as well as time to consult tribes about their input on the wolf hunt. He added that the decision gives the agency more time to gather and submit information on a harvest quota to the Natural Resources Board for approval.
Wisconsin's wolf population grew 13 percent in the most recent count to more than 1,000 wolves, according to state data. The state once had as many as 5,000 wolves before they were hunted nearly to extinction, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Arnold Groehler, president of the Wisconsin Trappers Association, said he feels the DNR is making the right decision to take more time "to do it right" rather than risk rushing a wolf hunt. However, he noted not all of the group’s roughly 3,000 members feel the same way.
"Some members feel strongly that there should have been a wolf season for several years now, because there are quite a few wolves, especially in the northern part of the state," said Groehler. "They are ready to start trapping right now."
Groehler highlighted the uncertainty and confusion that could stem from holding a wolf hunt amid legal challenges to the delisting and subsequent court rulings that could impact the season.
"When we do have it, make sure it's the law, and it's not going to be stopped a week later or something like that," said Groehler.
Rachel Tilseth, wolf tracker and founder of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, said she’s glad to hear the DNR is holding off on a wolf hunt.
"I oppose a recreational hunt on wolves because we have to take a look at the species and manage the species for its health," she said.
She would like to see an updated wolf management plan that includes broad public input along with an updated survey on public attitudes toward wolves.
"People are living alongside wolves, and they have problems with wolves attacking livestock and animals," she said. "How are we going to mitigate that?"
Trump Administration Returns Management and Protection of Gray Wolves to States and Tribes Following Successful Recovery Efforts
More than 45 years after gray wolves were first listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Trump Administration and its many conservation partners are announcing the successful recovery of the gray wolf and its delisting from the ESA. State and tribal wildlife management agency professionals will resume responsibility for sustainable management and protection of delisted gray wolves in states with gray wolf populations, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitors the species for five years to ensure the continued success of the species.
The Service based its final determination solely on the best scientific and commercial data available, a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of states and tribes to continue managing for healthy wolf populations once delisted. This analysis includes the latest information about the wolf's current and historical distribution in the contiguous United States.
In total, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000 wolves, greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.
This final rule excludes Mexican wolves as that species remains listed under the ESA. The final rule will publish in the Federal Register on November 3, 2020, and be effective 60 days after on January 4, 2021.
Keep in mind ALL WOLF HARVEST ZONES ARE CURRENTLY CLOSED
On Oct. 29, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that they will be removing gray wolves from the federal endangered species list for the lower 48 states. The rule will be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 3 and will take effect 60 days after on Jan. 4, 2021.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources welcomes the responsibility of again managing wolves in Wisconsin. The department has successfully done so for decades and will continue to follow the science and laws that influence our management. All wolf management, including hunting, will be conducted in a transparent and deliberative process, in which public and tribal participation will be encouraged.
The DNR will continue to partner with USDA-Wildlife Services to address wolf conflicts in Wisconsin. If you suspect wolves in the depredation of livestock, pets or hunting dogs, or if wolves are exhibiting threatening or dangerous behavior, contact USDA-Wildlife Services staff immediately. If in northern Wisconsin, call 1-800-228-1368 or 715-369-5221; if in southern Wisconsin, call 1-800-433-0663 or 920-324-4514. Until delisting takes effect, it remains unlawful to shoot a wolf unless there is an immediate threat to human safety. Following the delisting effective date, the DNR may implement all abatement measures as applicable to each situation, which may include lethal control.