by Jill Sakai
Legislation outlining a proposed state wolf hunt is likely to hurt wolf populations while failing to resolve existing conflicts with humans, says a UW–Madison wolf expert.
Senate Bill 411, introduced at the end of January, proposes opening the entire state to hunting and trapping gray wolves during an annual season extending from October 15 through the end of the following February.
UW–Madison professor Adrian Treves, who directs the Carnivore Coexistence Laboratory in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, says the removal of the gray wolf from federal endangered species lists earlier this year affords Wisconsin a unique opportunity to balance responsible and sustainable management of this natural resource with multiple citizen interests.
“The issue is not simply whether or not to hunt, it is how and where to hunt that are critical,” he writes in a testimony statement to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.
But exposing wolves to such a long season – much longer than comparable species – and across such a broad area risks overharvesting the animals. The approach is also unlikely to help control problem wolves, which Treves’ research has shown are a minority of animals in geographically restricted and highly predictable areas.
Treves also believes the proposed hunt will not meet the needs of the majority of Wisconsin citizens. In statewide public opinion surveys, he and his colleagues found that the majority of those polled supported a wolf hunt provided it could be conducted in a way that reduces conflict with humans without jeopardizing the long-term health of the wolf population. The proposed hunt structure meets neither condition, he says.
Pushing forward with the bill as written risks reducing the state population enough to land it back on the federal endangered list and beyond state control. “We risk wasting the opportunity for Wisconsin to manage its own wolves without federal intervention,” writes Treves.
“As a species fresh off the endangered species list and a species with very special meaning to many people – including the sovereign tribal nations in our state – this bill should be amended to accord the wolf its due place among Wisconsin’s premier wildlife,” he adds. “I recommend the (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) be given the authority to determine a sustainable and publicly acceptable season length and methods of hunting.”