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Wisconsin’s Controversial 2021 Wolf Harvest Season

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

As of October 5, 2021, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service had 1,666 species of animals and plants listed on its “List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.” This list offers protections, such as expensive fines or jail time, to the species. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), endangered species refer to species on the brink of extinction due to extremely low populations, and threatened species refer to species whose population is declining at a rate in which extinction is possible in the foreseeable future.

On January 4, 2021, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service took gray wolves, also referred to as Canis Lupus, off the “List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants” in the Midwest Region and Mountain Prairie Region

In October of 1999, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) created a management plan to help keep the wolf population throughout the state controlled. The DNR’s goal was 350 wolves outside of reservations.

The current wolf population in Wisconsin is somewhere between 695 and 751, which is nearly 300 less than the 1,034 wolves in 2020 but more than double the 1999 management plan. According to Van Deelen, a Wildlife Ecologist in Wisconsin, the state’s wolf carrying capacity is approximately 900. This means the wolf population was more than 100 wolves over its carrying capacity in 2020. 

During the first half of 2020, confirmed reports of wolf depredations include 26 livestock animals and two hunting dogs, injuring even more.

Wisconsin is opening its Fall 2021 Wolf Harvest Season beginning November 6 and ending no later than February 28. The application was open between March 1 and August 1 with a fee of $10. The applicants will be drawn on October 25. Wisconsin is drawing 370 applicants and setting a state quota of 74 wolves—the Wisconsin DNR set a quota of 130 with 56 going to the Ojibwe Tribe. Their expectation for the hunting season is a 5:1 ratio. This means that if all the 370 applicants purchase a Wisconsin State Wolf Hunting License, they expect only one out of five licensed hunters to fill their tag. 

If all 370 applicants purchase a hunting license and manage to fill their tags, the approximate wolf population in Wisconsin would drop from 695-751 down to 325-381. However, once the quota of 74 wolves are met, the Wisconsin DNR will close the hunting season.

This is where the controversy comes into play. 

Between April 2020 and April 2021, 313-323 wolves died out of the entire 1,034 Wisconsin gray wolf population. 218 wolves, nearly 100 more than the 119 quota, were killed as a result of the first Wolf Hunting Season in early 2021 since the wolves were delisted in January. However, an estimated 100 more died over the winter due to, what many suspect to be, illegal poaching.

The total number of wolf deaths within those dates is more than double the Wisconsin DNR’s quota of 130 for the Fall 2021 Wolf Hunting Season, making some people worry about a possible drastic decline in the wolf population.

This becomes an issue because people approach gray wolves differently. 

Some, such as the Ojibwe, approach the conversation of wolf management with a pro-wolf mindset due to the cultural importance of gray wolves. Others, such as farmers and ranchers, approach the conversation with a more anti-wolf approach. Below, I am going to explain the different sides.

In Wisconsin, people with pro-wolf mindsets, whom I will refer to as “pro-wolfers,” believe gray wolves should be allowed to populate up to their full carrying capacity, estimated at 900. Pro-wolfers also try to handle wolf depredation by using non-lethal force as much as possible. 

Meanwhile, people with anti-wolf mindsets, whom I will refer to as “anti-wolfers,” believe gray wolf populations should be kept lower to try to eliminate wolf depredation. If wolf depredation occurs, anti-wolfers typically do not see a problem using lethal force. Many anti-wolfers are content with a Wisconsin wolf population of 350—the goal of Wisconsin’s management plan.

Politically, the state of Wisconsin is trying to appease both sides—pro-wolfers and anti-wolfers. Since their estimation is a 5:1 ratio, the population would only drop from 695-751 down to 621-677, without taking into consideration the Ojibwe Tribe quota of 56. 

Nonetheless, the Wisconsin DNR’s management plan from 1999 is still being maintained even throughout the hunting season. In fact, the current wolf population is nearly double the 1999 goal of 350 wolves.

Although this controversial topic is in Wisconsin, it is slowly spreading to other states as the wolf population continues to increase. In the end, remember to stay educated before taking a stance on one side or the other, and try to read reliable sources with as little bias as possible.

Cheyenne Halberg is a student at Winona State University with a major in Communication Arts and Literature Teaching. She is from the outskirts of St. Cloud, MN. Cheyenne enjoys writing to express herself and empowering others to do what they love. Her hobbies include spending time with friends and family, watching football, spending time outdoors, crafting and writing. Her life goal is to leave an impression on the next generations that allows them to embrace their unique qualities.
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