Smith: Wisconsin opens wolf hunting, trapping season
(MCT) — MILWAUKEE — Some see the gray wolf as the greatest symbol of wildness in Wisconsin.
Members of the state’s Ojibwe tribes consider the wolf a brother.
Other state residents regard the animal as a varmint that should be eradicated.
Such disparate views of the predator have existed for generations. Even famed conservationist Aldo Leopold endeavored to kill as many wolves as possible early in his career.
The wolf was killed with poison and shot on sight under a bounty system in Wisconsin through the mid-1950s.
But the wolf has proven resilient and, with federal and state protections since the 1970s, recovered in much of its former range in the Upper Midwest.
On Monday, the wolf entered a new era in Wisconsin. For the first time in statehood, the animal will be managed as a game species.
“The gray wolf population has improved in our state beyond multiple recovery standards and is a remarkable success story of endangered species management,” said Kurt Thiede, administrator of the Department of Natural Resources’ Land Division.
Wisconsin joins Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming as states with wolf hunting and trapping seasons.
Wisconsin had a minimum of 815 to 880 wolves in late winter, according to the DNR’s annual survey. Now, after the birth of pups, the population is likely twice as high, according to Adrian Wydeven, DNR wolf biologist.
The DNR’s goal is to reduce the wolf population to a “more biologically and socially acceptable level.”
Wisconsin wolves average from 60 to 90 pounds, Wydeven said. The largest ever captured in the state by the DNR weighed 108 pounds.
The Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping season is scheduled to run through Feb. 28. The agency set a statewide wolf harvest quota of 201 animals, 85 of which are reserved for American Indian tribes in the ceded territory.
Tribal members aren’t likely to fill any of those permits, according to Jim Zorn, executive director of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Several tribes have issued statements opposing the killing of any wolves in the state.
Opening day of wolf season was set up to involve only a small fraction of the activity of the deer or even waterfowl seasons.
To protect against overharvest, the DNR will issue a maximum of 1,160 licenses. More than 600,000 hunters take to the field on the opener of the gun deer season.
And not all Wisconsin wolf license holders will begin pursuing wolves Monday.
“I’d recommend waiting until after about Thanksgiving,” said John Olson, DNR forbear ecologist, at a wolf trapping education seminar Oct. 6 in Tomahawk.
By late November, pelts are in better condition and tracking snow is more probable, Olson said.
The DNR has established harvest quotas in five zones; each zone is subject to an emergency closure if the quota is reached.
In a state with a rich hunting tradition, the wolf season is unique: There is virtually no living experience.
“It will be a learning experience for all of us,” Olson said.
Only a handful of people, mostly state and federal employees like Dave Ruid of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife services, have intentionally and with proper authorization trapped or hunted wolves in Wisconsin.
Ruid said the techniques for trapping wolves are very similar to those used for coyotes. At the clinic in Tomahawk, Ruid demonstrated a wolf set. It used a foot-hold trap concealed by dirt and leaves. A dog urine scent was used to mark a nearby log.
Trappers are likely to achieve higher rates of success, said Ruid. Of the 1,160 licenses issued in Wisconsin, 238 have some trapping experience or have purchased a trapping license in the past, according to the DNR.
Hunters face longer odds. In Montana, 18,700 licenses were sold in 2011 and hunters killed only 166 wolves.
Wisconsin regulations allow night hunting and the use of bait.
The use of dogs to pursue wolves is blocked through at least Dec. 20 by an injunction in Dane County Circuit Court. None of the other states allows the use of dogs in wolf hunting.
The legislation that authorized the wolf hunt also changes the method of payment for wolf depredation in Wisconsin.
The money used to come out of the Endangered Resources Fund; it now will come from sale of wolf permits and licenses.
The sale of permits brought in $202,720. The sale of licenses ($100 each for state residents, $500 for nonresidents) is expected to bring in about $120,000 more. Through Friday, the DNR had sold 505 wolf licenses to state residents and five to nonresidents.
As Wisconsin deer hunters can attest, a wolf sighting is extremely rare. The animals are extremely wary and move mostly at night.
The North American Model of Wildlife Management is based on science and carefully controlled hunting. It has led to the recoveries of dozens of species now commonly found in Wisconsin, including wood ducks and wild turkey.
But no species has assumed the title of “game animal” accompanied by as much emotion as the wolf. And the appetite among the Wisconsin citizenry for managing the wolf through hunting and trapping will only be known later.
For its part, the DNR intends to go to great lengths to avoid exceeding the harvest quota.
Using a model similar to the sturgeon spearing season, it plans to close a zone if about 95 percent of the quota is reached.
“We are being as careful as possible,” said Thiede. “It is in everyone’s interest that we effectively manage wolves so we are able to retain management of these majestic creatures.”