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Senate approves wolf hunting season, other bills

By Patrick Marley and Lee Bergquist of the Journal Sentinel

Madison – In a move designed to calm the worries of farmers, landowners and hunters who believe that wolves are taking a toll on the deer population, Wisconsin moved a step closer to a wolf hunting season Tuesday.

The state Senate voted 24-9 to approve legislation that would open wolves to a hunting season starting this fall. The Assembly was expected to take it up within hours in an overnight session.

The bill would lead to the first wolf hunting season since wolves were wiped off the landscape more than 50 years ago.

Wisconsin took over management of wolves on Jan. 27 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from a federal list of endangered species.

As the wolf population has soared in Wisconsin, so have tensions with some property owners. Wolves have killed increasing numbers of livestock, pets and hunting dogs. In 2011 alone, wolves killed 20 dogs, mostly hunting dogs.

The proposed hunting rules are modeled after those used for bear hunting. The season would start Oct. 15 and end in February.

Wolves could be hunted with firearms, bows, crossbows and leg traps. Bait, dogs and electronic calls also would be legal. It’s unclear how many wolves could be killed, but the bill allows the Department of Natural Resources to close the season within 24 hours, if necessary.

A wolf hunting license would cost $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. It would cost $10 to apply for a wolf license. Potential hunters would be selected in a drawing.

There are an estimated 800 wolves in Wisconsin. The state’s management goal, set in the 1990s, had been 350 outside of Indian reservations.

At the time of European settlement, the DNR estimated there were 3,000 to 5,000 wolves in the state. As settlers moved in, so did efforts to kill wolves. Wisconsin paid a bounty on wolves from 1865 to 1957.

Wolves were considered extinct in the state by 1960. They returned by natural in-migration, and by 1980, the DNR estimated there were about 25 wolves in five packs in the state.