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Gray Wolf Hunting, Trapping Opens in Wisconsin

After federal delisting from endangered list, wolves open for harvest during quota season.

Gray Wolf Hunting, Trapping Opens in Wisconsin

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For only the fourth time in state history, Wisconsin opened up a hunting and trapping season for its population of gray wolves on Monday.

The Feb. 23-28, 2021 season runs until the kill quota of 200 wolves is reached or the season reaches its end.

As of 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, a total of 52 wolves were reported being harvested across the state's six management zones, all of which remained open to hunting since quota figures had not yet been met.

The brief wolf season in Wisconsin became possible after the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered species list a few months ago. After making its final ruling and publishing it in the Nov. 3, 2020 Federal Register, the delisting became effective 60 days later on Jan. 4, 2021, according to the FWS.

The gray wolf (Canis lupus) population in the lower 48 states currently numbers more than 6,000. Such figures are well above the combined gray wolf recovery goals in place for packs in the northern Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes.

Following the federal delisting move, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was then tasked with putting a fall season into place.

But while state law reportedly calls for the DNR to open a wolf season in November anytime federal regulations allow for that, a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (on behalf of Hunter Nation Inc., a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group, according to the MPR news site in Minnesota) forced a legal battle that ultimately resulted in this month's season after Wisconsin DNR appeals had been rejected.

After a Wisconsin Natural Resources Board Special Meeting on Feb. 15, the DNR website indicates that the board voted unanimously to have a harvest quota of 200 wolves outside reservation lands in Wisconsin.

Of that figure, a total of 119 wolves were allocated to the state, while 81 wolves were allocated to the Ojibwe Nation.

After the season's first full day, Zone 2 in Wisconsin's north central and northeastern quadrant (which lies along the border with the upper peninsula of Michigan) was the closest to reaching its quota. Of the 18 wolves allowed by state officials this month, a total of 12 had already been killed by hunters and trappers.

Photo by Scott Flaherty, USFWS

Other zone data as of the time of this writing includes Zone 1 with a quota of 31 wolves and a kill of 6 wolves; Zone 3 with a quota of 20 and a kill of 7; Zone 4 with a quota of 6 and 0 kills; Zone 5 with a quota of 27 and a kill of 17; and Zone 6 with a quota of 17 and a kill of 10.

According to the DNR, the approved quota came after a look at 2020 population data for the state's wolves, how the population responded to harvest figures in previous seasons, scientific writings on the subject, and model projections. In the end, the goal is to have a sustainable wolf harvest in Wisconsin with the population neither increasing nor decreasing.

How many gray wolves roam the wilds of the Badger State right now? According to a 2020 report from the Wisconsin DNR, the state’s "...contiguous wolf pack range was estimated to be 23,313 square miles. Using the 2020 minimum population count of 1,034-1,057 wolves, wolf density is estimated to be one wolf per 22.0 to 22.5 square miles of wolf pack range."

Such population and pack density figures in Wisconsin and elsewhere helped pave the way for the federal delisting and provided the groundwork for this year's state wolf hunting seasons in February and November.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, more than 27,000 hunters and trappers applied for one of the 4,000 permits offered for the February season. As of Monday, the newspaper reported that 1,620 licenses had been purchased.

Wisconsin hunters and trappers who kill a wolf in this month's brief season have 24 hours to report the kill to state officials. Wolf harvesting zone closures go into effect 24 hours after the department posts notice of the closure.

The agency says it is the responsibility of hunters and trappers to determine the closure status of a wolf zone prior to attempting to hunt or trap wolves in that zone. In addition to checking the DNR's website for up-to-date information, the DNR says that status updates are also available by calling (855) 299-9653.

Previously, wolf seasons were held across Wisconsin in 2012, 2013, and 2014. In addition to the current season now underway, Wisconsin DNR officials are working to establish the framework for the upcoming November season.

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