Paul Smith | Outdoors Editor
When viewed from most perspectives Friday, the gray wolf in Wisconsin was unchanged: A native predator that inspired respect, fear, awe and even hatred among humans.
But Jan. 27 also marked a significant transition for the wolf. No longer listed as protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the wolf returned to state management.
And in a new development in the modern annals of Wisconsin wildlife management, a bill was introduced Friday that would allow wolf hunting and trapping.
The delisting was welcomed by state wildlife managers.
“We’ve been looking forward to this day,” said Adrian Wydeven, wolf ecologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “It’s going to provide relief to a good number of farmers and landowners in the state.”
The delisting was the culmination of the latest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of the wolf’s status in the western Great Lakes region.
Based on what it considered a healthy, recovered population of wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the service published a delisting rule Dec. 28 in the Federal Register; the 30-day public notice elapsed Friday, allowing state management plans to take effect.
Although lawsuits have twice prevented the state from conducting wolf management, Wydeven said Friday he was aware of no legal action that stood in the way of Wisconsin implementing its federally approved plan.
“It represents an achievement in recovering a population,” Wydeven said of the delisting. “It says that the species is healthy, that they no longer need this endangered status and that it can be managed just like other wildlife species.”
Minnesota has an estimated 3,000 wolves while Michigan and Wisconsin have about 800 each, based on the most recent surveys.
In Wisconsin, the wolf is now a “protected wild animal,” which means authorization from the DNR is required before a person can “take” or kill a wolf.
Landowners can obtain permits to shoot a wolf coming on their land if they have experienced wolf problems within the last two years.
Any wolf shot or trapped by a landowner or leaseholder must be reported to the DNR within 24 hours. The carcass must be turned over the DNR.
“Our focus is on making it easier to remove problem wolves,” Wydeven said. “We are providing some of the funding to USDA wildlife services to trap the problem wolves and evaluate which areas have the most problems.”
In addition, Wydeven said the DNR plans to establish a Citizen Trapper Program this year. Participants would receive training on wolf trapping techniques from USDA Wildlife Services staff.
The department hopes to have the program outlined by March and hold training in summer. Trappers would then be certified by the DNR and encouraged to trap wolves in “problem areas” this fall.
Wydeven said landowners, farmers and others should contact their local DNR wildlife biologist to obtain wolf permits and other information.
Wisconsin law does not currently allow for a public wolf hunting or trapping season. However, state representatives Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and Roger Rivard (R-Rice Lake) on Friday introduced Assembly Bill 502 which would establish a public wolf harvest.
Following guidelines used for bear hunting in Wisconsin, the bill would allow a limited number of permits to be issued each year. The state would be divided in four wolf management zones. The season would run from mid-October to the end of February. Hunters could use bows, crossbows and firearms.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled Wednesday before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
Meanwhile, biologists and volunteers are conducting the annual winter wolf tracking survey to help estimate the state’s wolf population. About 35 wolves in Wisconsin are fitted with radio collars to assist with tracking efforts.
The state is now in a new phase – managing the wolf to a level that is both biologically safe for the species and socially acceptable for humans.
If the last several hundred years have taught us anything, it’s that human tolerance is essential if the wolf is to share this land we call Wisconsin.