Paul A. Smith Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The gray wolf has been removed from the federal Endangered Species List, allowing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies to assume management of the species.
The delisting decision, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in late October and published in early November, became effective Jan. 4.
The change allows lethal measures to be used on the animals, including the killing of wolves that cause depredation of livestock as well as the use of hunting and trapping seasons to manage populations of the native predators.
In a statement, the DNR said it has “successfully managed gray wolves for decades and will continue to do so in accordance with the laws of our state and the best science available.”
The state most recently held management authority over wolves from 2012-14, when it held three hunting and trapping seasons and killed 528 wolves. A federal judge returned wolves to the Endangered Species List in Dec. 2014.
Wisconsin law requires a wolf hunting and trapping season to be held when the species is not under protections of the Endangered Species Act. The DNR plans to begin the next wolf season Nov. 6.
The agency also said it is working to complete a 10-year wolf management plan to help guide future management decisions for the species in Wisconsin.
Although delisted, it remains unlawful to shoot a wolf unless there is an immediate threat to human safety. Or, if on private land, a wolf can be shot and killed if it is in the act of killing or wounding livestock or a domestic animal such as a pet.
The delisting also triggered a change in the funding source and the timing used to pay for wolf depredations. The monies must now come from proceeds of sales of wolf hunting and trapping licenses and applications. When protected by the ESA, the compensation is drawn from the state’s endangered resources fund.
Under state management, the payouts for wolf depredations will also be delayed until the end of the year, and could be pro-rated based on available funds, said Brad Koele, DNR wildlife damage specialist.
State statute allows payments of $2,500 to hound hunters and others who have lost dogs to wolves. But that could be reduced if insufficient funds are available.
Wolf depredations in Wisconsin were running higher in 2020. A DNR report through the end of October showed 90 confirmed or probable wolf depredations, compared to full-year depredations of 82, 73 and 61 in 2019, 2018 and 2017, respectively.
No wolf depredation of a farm animal or pet has occurred in Wisconsin so far in 2021, according to state data.
The DNR estimated the 2019-20 Wisconsin wolf population at a modern-era high of 1,195 animals and 256 packs.
No case of a wolf attack on a human has been verified in Wisconsin history.
If wolf depredation is seen or suspected, the public should contact USDA-Wildlife Services at (800) 228-1368 in northern Wisconsin and (800) 433-0663 in the rest of the state.
The agency, which is contracted by the DNR, will send a staff member to the site to conduct an investigation.
To assist with the investigation, USDA-Wildlife Services recommends not moving or unnecessarily handling a carcass as well as preserving any evidence at the kill site by using a tarp to cover a carcass to discourage scavengers and preserve any tracks, scat and other material.
The delisting was opposed by American Indian tribes and many environmental and animal protection organizations.
Several groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, have vowed to overturn the delisting through legal action.