Rapid wolf harvest suggests robust population
Wisconsin sportsmen never bet against Wisconsin’s wolf hunters and trappers.
I learned my lesson last year when I bet some coworkers that the 116-wolf quota (201 less a tribal quota of 85 wolves) wouldn’t be met during the state’s first modern wolf hunt.
I lost. The total harvest ended at 117, plus 76 for depredation control, 24 killed by cars and 26 killed either illegally or by unknown means for a whopping 243 wolves.
This year, with the quota set at 251 animals, sportsmen killed 95 wolves in one week. That’s an incredible pace, considering the state Department of Natural Resources believes there are only 800 or so wolves in the whole state. The management goal outside tribal boundaries is 350 animals. The population may vary greatly from the spring to the late fall, too, since all wolf pups born in the spring don’t survive.
The Harvest Zone 2 – which includes portions of Shawano and all of Waupaca counties – closed at 3 p.m. Oct. 23 after hunters and trappers harvested 26 of the zone’s 28-wolf quota through Oct. 22. Another wolf was taken before the deadline, bringing the zone total to 27.
Oct. 24 saw the harvest climb to 110 animals.
At least one DNR staffer is as amazed as me at the numbers so far.
“The pace of this year’s wolf harvest is higher than the beginning of last season,” said Kurt Thiede, the agency’s Land Division administrator. “There could be a variety of factors contributing to this higher rate of harvest. Given that this is only our second year of wolf hunting and trapping in the state, it is difficult to say whether this year is an anomaly or whether this could become the norm moving forward. We won’t fully know the factors involved until we’ve had an opportunity to take a closer look at the data following the season and survey hunters and trappers.”
The license quota is 10 times the harvest quota, based on the idea that with fewer open spaces than western states with wolf-hunting experience like Montana and Idaho, it will be easier to kill one in Wisconsin.
That has been proven to be the case so far.
Most wolf hunters and trappers who were drawn in the state’s annual lottery and allowed to purchase licenses have not yet done so, according to the DNR. Most are probably waiting for colder weather and maybe a tracking snow.
The state currently plans to allow dogs for hunting wolves beginning Dec. 2 and continuing to the end of the season on Feb. 28. Last year, animal rights groups filed a lawsuit that dragged on through the season, effectively preventing the use of dogs for wolf hunting. A judge ultimately ruled in favor of the state.
Trappers have been a bit more successful overall than the hunters this year, as they were last year. They took 52 percent of the wolves last year and have taken a bit more than half of the wolves so far this year.
How long will it take Wisconsin’s licensed wolf hunters and trappers to fill this season’s quota? Although it’s difficult to tell, one thing’s for certain: I’m not betting against our capable sportsmen – or a perceived lack of wolves – again.
• Ross Bielema is a freelance writer. Contact him at [email protected]