I have heard so much about the recent Wisconsin wolf hunt the past few weeks that I am hesitant to even write about it. That being said, with all the controversy and negative coverage in mainstream media, I feel that I need to give my opinion on what took place. However you feel about the hunt, it has become a rallying cry for anti-hunters and I think it is critically important that we all understand the issue and can explain it to non-hunter friends as it comes up. Hunters make up such a small portion of the US population that we need to make sure our voices are being heard.
The status of wolves in the lower 48 states of the US has been in limbo for years. According to most biologists and state game agencies, the populations have recovered from endangered status. However, actually getting the wolves delisted has been a political football that has been kicked back and forth for the past decade. The Trump administration completed the formal delisting of wolves, however, lawsuits are still playing out in many states over their status. One such court battle has gone on in Wisconsin since November of 2020. Under state law, a wolf hunting season was supposed to take place in 2021, but the Natural Resources Board in Wisconsin narrowly voted not to hold the hunt this year. After another court battle, a Wisconsin judge ordered that the hunt must take place. The state’s DNR estimated the wolf population in Wisconsin at 1200 wolves and a harvest goal of 200 wolves was set. Due to treaty obligations with the Ojibwe Native American tribe, 119 wolf licenses were given to Wisconsin and 81 to the Ojibwe tribe. Before the hunt began, the Ojibwe tribe had made clear their intention of not filling any of their 81 wolf licenses. They planned to use their license allocation to spare that number of wolves.
The 2021 Hunt
Hunters were allowed to pursue wolves with bait, electronic calls, dogs, trapping, and could use either archery equipment or firearms. Hunters were required to report their successful harvest of a wolf to the state DNR within 24 hours. The hunt began on February 21st, 2021. After 3 days, the hunt was closed by the Wisconsin DNR. Hunters had successfully harvested 216 wolves, exceeding the number of licenses allocated to Wisconsin by 97. Most of the wolves killed were hunted using dogs.
Since the hunt ended several weeks ago and the harvest numbers were released, public outcry has been swift and condemnatory. The New York Times ran the headline, “Wisconsin Hunters Kill Over 200 Wolves in Less Than 3 Days.” The Washington Post ran an opinion article titled, “Wisconsin’s brutal wolf hunt shows hunters have too much sway over conservation policy.” The rapid spread of the story and controversy has fueled the efforts of anti-hunters who have been crusading against predator hunting for years. The Wisconsin wolf hunt is being used as a recruitment and fundraising tool. Words like brutal, inhumane, immoral, violent, barbaric, slaughter, and many other derogatory charged words are being applied to any mention of the hunt.
There’s no easy way to say it: the optics on this hunt are not good for the hunting community. It could not have come at a worse time as anti-hunters have ramped up their efforts during the pandemic and we have a new administration in the white house. As a community, we need to use science, facts, patience, and reason to try and educate people about the reality of the Wisconsin wolf hunt. The total harvest goal for that population of wolves in 2021 was 200. 216 wolves were killed. Yes, it’s true that 81 of those tags belonged to a Native American tribe that didn’t plan to harvest any wolves. However, the harvest number was allocated by the Wisconsin DNR and biologists for a reason. 200 wolves needed to be killed from that population this year in order to maintain the current population. In fact, I would argue that if only 119 wolves were killed (number of licenses allocated to Wisconsin residents), next year the harvest goal would have to increase to account for the surplus. This is common practice in-game management. You set a harvest target and then adjust post-season and tweak it for the following year. Sometimes too many get killed, and sometimes too few. That is why the number of licenses changes year to year.
At the end of the day, the anti-hunters would have been saying the same things about the hunt if only 119 wolves were killed. They believe that the wolf population should be allowed to increase unchecked with no regard for the rest of the state’s wildlife, livestock, humans, and household pets. Like it or not, humans are living among wildlife in many areas and that wildlife is going to require management. Hunters are the best tools to manage these populations of animals and will gladly pay for the privilege to do so. The money they pay into the license system and for hunting equipment funds conservation efforts. Just because people find wolves captivating and beautiful creatures does not mean that all the other rules of successful wildlife management don’t apply. Wolves are here to stay in many states (including Michigan and Wisconsin). They must be managed each year to reduce conflict and ensure a healthy population that is appropriate for the amount of available habitat.