State Views: Court restores protection vital to wolves in Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s third wolf hunt recently ended, with a body count of 154 wolves—a reduction from the 250 wolves taken last year, but still a significant dent in our state’s besieged population. Since federal protections for this species were rescinded in 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has overreached and allowed an inhumane and reckless trapping and trophy-hunting program to be implemented.
Thankfully, a federal district court just ruled that state management is flawed and hindering wolf recovery, and sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the Great Lakes region must end. Wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin once again are federally protected—restoring protections that wolves and people lived with for nearly four decades.
In just 2½ years, trophy hunters and trappers killed more than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves—principally in Wisconsin and Minnesota—under hostile state management programs that encouraged dramatic population reductions. This new federal court decision recognized that state wildlife managers have not been responsibly handling their authority, and their “virtually unregulated killing” plans have impeded the recovery of wolf populations.
Wisconsin stands apart in managing its wolf population with exceptionally unsporting and barbaric methods, including leghold traps, cable snares, baiting, electronic calls, and packs of dogs—with hounding of wolves so out of the realm of responsible action that it has drawn condemnation around the nation.
Since the state took over management, authorities have intentionally driven down the size of the population by allowing the killing of so many wolves that packs have been crippled or even wiped out. During the last three hunting seasons, more than 520 wolves were killed—and nearly 70 percent of them were taken with cruel and indiscriminate leghold traps.
For several years now, state wolf management has been based entirely on fear and rhetoric, rather than science and conservation. The plain truth is that wolves pose no legitimate danger to people. Wolf-caused mortality of livestock in our state is minimal and can be managed through nonlethal measures. In fact, a recent peer-reviewed study out of Washington State University, which used more than 25 years of data, demonstrated that lethal control of depredating wolves does not work. Such a measure may result in a greater loss of livestock by disrupting pack social relationships and allowing more surviving wolves to breed. Random killing of wolves, ironically, may result in more problems for farmers and ranchers.
Our DNR’s 2014 survey of nearly 9,000 residents revealed that a vast majority believe that wolves “balance nature” and should not be “harvested” for their fur by trappers. It is time now to heed the wishes of Wisconsinites and this latest federal court ruling by protecting wolves from further trophy hunts and finding the right balance on the issue of wolf management.