Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources is currently accepting applications for its inaugural wolf hunting season. Until January 12, 2012, wolves remained on the state’s protected species list, but it only took until April for the Madison to pass Act 169; which allows for hunting and trapping of wolves as a means of population reduction and management.
According to Kurt Thiede, Land Administrator at the DNR, the threshold was 100, outside of Native American reservations, for wolves to be taken off the protected. Thiede said that in the spring the DNR’s minimum population count was 850 wolves.
For this year, the DNR is limiting the hunt to 201 wolves. The Timber Wolf Alliance, an organization founded in 1987 to promote wolf recovery, said that they are not completely against hunting the animals. However, Radley Watkins, TWA’s educator, said that they asked the DNR to limit the first hunt to between 140-160 wolves.
“[They] should have been more cautious,” Watkins said.
The disagreement over hunting numbers stems from a disagreement over the state’s biological carrying capacity for the animal. When an animal is near the biological capacity, Watkins said that, “if you don’t shoot that wolf, then it might starve to death because there are not enough deer or whatever to sustain it.” In a way, then, hunting can be morally justified. However, “if you not near the carrying capacity then you are just adding to the natural death,” said Watkins.
The problem is that no one can agree on the state’s biological capacity. According to the latest DNR estimates, which were conducted in 1999, it is 500. The TWA, on the other hand, said that the number could be up around 800. Thiede does admit some studies show that the capacity could be higher than the DNR’s current estimate.
The number is set, though, and accommodating for success rates among hunters, there will be 2,010 permits allotted by a lottery-style drawing. As of Friday morning, Aug. 3, 4,726 applications have been received by the DNR. If a hunter is unsuccessful in obtaining a permit this year, they will be given a “preference point,” which they can accumulate to have a better chance of getting a permit for next season.
The DNR is accepting applications until Aug. 31 and the fee is $10. If chosen for a hunting license, the cost is $100 for Wisconsin residents and $500 for non-residents. Each license carrying hunter is only allowed to hunt one wolf, and must report the kill to the DNR within 24 hours. The state will be divided into six hunting zones, each of which have an individual hunting limit based on the current wolf population in that area. Once the limit is reached, that zone will be closed.
The one-wolf-per-hunter limit brings up the idea that both animal rights organizations, and Native American tribes who view the animals as sacred, could apply for the permits simply to sit on them. No animal rights group that was contacted said they had any intention of doing this.
When it comes to the states Native American tribes, due to a federal ruling in 1991 they “are eligible to claim up to half of the harvestable surplus within the ceded territory,” said Thiede.
At least a portion of each hunting zone falls within the territory that was ceded by the tribes in 1837 and 1842. The federal ruling applies to any game but considering that wolves have a special meaning to many of the tribes it is unclear how they will approach this season.