Wisconsin Senate passes Republican bill to force setting a wolf hunt goal

The Wisconsin Senate has passed a Republican-authored bill that would force wildlife managers with the Department of Natural Resources to set a specific goal for the state's wolf population.

Associated Press

October 17, 2023

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A grayscale photo shows a wolf with reflections in its eyes standing atop snow in a clearing of a wooded area, with trees in the background.

A trail camera photo from November 2018 shows a wolf standing on snow-covered ground after chasing a bobcat up a tree in Wisconsin. On Oct. 17, 2023, the Wisconsin Senate approved a Republican-authored bill that would force state wildlife managers to set a firm goal for the state's wolf population. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

AP News

By Scott Bauer, AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Senate passed a Republican-backed bill on Oct. 17 that would force state wildlife managers to set a firm numeric goal for the state’s wolf population.

The proposal, which next heads to the Assembly, comes after the Department of Natural Resources did not set a hard cap on the state’s wolf population in its new management plan, but said the population should be around 1,000.

The state has operated since 1999 under a wolf management plan that limits the statewide population at 350 animals. The new plan calls for the DNR to work with advisory committees to monitor local populations and decide whether to reduce them, maintain them or allow them to grow.

State wildlife officials told lawmakers in September that a lack of a hard limit gives the DNR more flexibility to manage the species, allows local wolf packs to fluctuate and gives the population a better chance at maintaining wolf abundance for years to come.

Hunting advocates support setting a population limit, saying the lack of a goal leaves both wolves and people unprotected.

Wolf population levels have been one of the most contentious outdoor issues Wisconsin has faced in the past 30 years. Farmers across northern Wisconsin complain annually about wolf attacks on their livestock as the species has regained a foothold in the state. Hunters are eager to kill them. Animal rights advocates insist the population is too fragile to support hunting.

Wisconsin law mandates that the DNR hold an annual wolf hunt. Gray wolves are currently listed on the federal endangered species list, making hunting illegal. The DNR has been working to update its management plan in case wolves are delisted and hunting resumes in the state.

Establishing a specific population target will show that the state has consistency in its wolf management plan and lead to the delisting of the gray wolf on the endangered list, said the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Sen. Rob Stafsholt.

But Democratic opponent Sen. Mark Spreitzer said the bill will send the wrong message, politicizing the issue that he says should be left to the Department of Natural Resources to handle.

“We need to come up with a solution that works for everybody in the state,” Spreitzer said. “But this bill is not that solution.”

The Senate passed the measure 22-9, with all Republicans in support and Democrats against.

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