Hunters in Wisconsin have been waiting seven years to target gray wolves, and they made the most of what ended up being a shortened, three-day hunting season.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported that non-Native American hunters took home 216 wolves, 97 more than the DNR had allotted to be harvested during this hunt.
Hunters didn’t break any rules. When 82 wolves were killed in the first two days after opening, the DNR immediately closed what should have been a week-long season. But they allowed hunters a 24-hour grace period to learn about the sudden season closure. In that time, hunters killed another 133 wolves.
“It’s easy at this point in the game to say, yeah, maybe we should have closed it a little bit sooner,” said DNR Wildlife Management Director Eric Lobner at a Thursday news conference. “There were so many unknowns about how the season was going to play out… How far we went over goal was not necessarily our objective.”
After wolves were removed from the endangered species list by the Trump administration, the Wisconsin DNR announced it would schedule a hunt for November 2021. The hunt was moved up to February because Republican lawmakers feared the Biden administration would try to reverse Trump’s order, according to the Associated Press.
A hunter advocacy group called Hunter Nation sued the Wisconsin DNR this month and sought an order to start the season immediately. A judge agreed, and the DNR was forced to announce a February hunting season.
Animal-rights groups have opposed the move.
“Trophy hunters wasted no time in pushing for this wolf hunt in the middle of the wolf breeding season, against the advice of state experts, and without consultation with regional tribes,” Collette Adkins of the Center for Biological Diversity told the AP. “We will continue our fight to stop the hunt.”
Hunters targeted wolves using a variety of methods, but 90 percent of the successful hunters used dogs to track and chase wolves. A fresh snowfall also helped hunters locate wolf packs.
The DNR received 27,151 applications but only issued 2,380 permits.
Even though hunters overshot the DNR’s allotment, it’s unlikely this season’s take will have a population-level effect. There are about 1,000 wolves in the state right now, but the DNR’s population goal is only 350, according to a separate story by the AP.
Lobner called Wisconsin wolves “very robust,” and assured residents that the population could sustain between 200 and 220 deaths and remain stable.
“The Wisconsin DNR has successfully managed gray wolves for decades and will continue to do so in accordance with the laws of our state and the best science available,” the department writes on its website.