Wisconsin Wolf Population Drops Nearly 15% Following Controversial Wolf Hunt

by Craig Garrett

Following the state’s controversial wolf hunt last year, the number of wolves in Wisconsin fell by 14 percent to 972. The figures were recently released during a meeting of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had intended to hold a hunt in November 2021. However, Hunter Nation filed a lawsuit against the agency in order to push up the event date to February 2021.

A Jefferson County judge required state wildlife managers to have a season that month. The brief hunting season resulted in 218 wolves being killed by hunters in less than three days. After the hunt, the agency’s most likely estimate for the current population is 972, although estimates range from 812 to 1,193. Randy Johnson, DNR large carnivore specialist said that data suggests the state’s wolf population has stabilized.

“Despite that observed decline in population abundance, there are several biological indicators that continue to indicate that the Wisconsin wolf population is healthy, biologically secure in the state,” Johnson explained. Even though the population decreased, Johnson said that the estimated number of wolf packs remained steady but noted that the size of each pack shrunk. However, this is consistent with previous hunts, and he saw little change in distribution. Before February’s wolf hunt began, the DNR had approximately 1,100 wolves—a 400% increase from 2000 numbers.

The health of the wolf population is disputed

The wolf population in the state is also a contentious issue. Farmers, hunters, and NRB members have claimed that there are too many of them in the state. They point to assaults on pets and livestock as evidence for reducing their numbers. Last year, the DNR verified 108 of the 182 documented conflicts with the animals. The number of cattle killed by wolves represents a tiny percentage of Wisconsin’s 3.5 million beef cattle.

Bill Bruins, a board member, said that the state’s population estimate showed that February’s hunt did not reduce the population as much as opponents had feared.”The board took a lot of heat over that, and I just wanted to clear the air on that — that the sky didn’t fall entirely with that February hunt,” Bruins stated.

The 2021 hunt was lambasted by state, tribal, and environmental groups as a slaughter of wolves. The DNR was condemned for failing to properly manage the season following complaints from tribes, states, and environmentalists that it would be a slaughter. Approximately 100 more wolves were taken than were authorized under a 200-wolf quota split between Ojibwe nations and the DNR.

According to the DNR, the number of wolves killed was close to acceptable levels. However, managing the hunt is more difficult than it should be because state law requires 24 hours’ notice before ending the season.