Wisconsin sportsmen want to hunt wolves

By ROBERT IMRIE

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) – Outdoor enthusiasts at Wisconsin’s annual statewide conservation hearings voted to allow hunting wolves now that they have been re-established in the state. And they like the idea in a big way.

Hunters, anglers and others who attended the Conservation Congress hearings in all 72 counties voted 4,848 to 772 to develop a hunting season on wolves “to keep the population within management objectives,” the state Department of Natural Resources reported.

Conservation Congress Chairman Ed Harvey said the message is that the state should at least begin planning to allow hunting and trapping of wolves.

“I don’t know if there will be a hunt in five years or it will be further down the road,” he said.

The hearings included votes on 71 questions dealing with a variety of fishing and wildlife issues and proposed regulations.

A question asking whether the state should ban the baiting and feeding of deer – a contentious issue for years that recently had state lawmakers involved – got a much more mixed result. It passed 3,092 to 2,678, getting majority support in 43 counties, the DNR said.

“Five years ago, I think the vote was just the opposite,” said Kurt Thiede, the DNR’s coordinator for the spring hearings. He attributed the switch to more concern about the spread of disease that can occur with baiting and feeding of deer.

DNR fish and wildlife managers will analyze the results of Monday’s votes and develop recommendations they will present to the Natural Resources Board in May.

Decades of bounty hunting wiped out wolves in Wisconsin by the late 1950s, but they migrated back from Minnesota after being placed on the federal endangered species list in the 1970s. About 550 now live in northern and central Wisconsin, roaming in 138 packs.

As the wolf population has increased, they have caused problems by killing livestock, pets and bear hunting dogs, critics said.

A year ago, the federal government removed wolves from the endangered species list, deciding the population had rebounded to stable levels in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The move allowed states to manage wolves, and one tool is to hunt them.

Critics of starting a hunt, including the Wisconsin Sierra Club chapter, say hunting would destroy wolf pack structures, sending animals wandering outside their territory and causing more problems.

Adrian Wydeven, the DNR’s wolf expert, said any hunting season on wolves would have to be approved by the state Legislature and he expects that move is several years away.

Wydeven said he recommends that wolf management focus on controlling the problems wolves cause and reducing wolf conflicts, not hunting the animals. That strategy allows landowners to shoot problem wolves, he said.

“It would be good to have several years under our belt before we jump into a public harvest,” Wydeven said.

According to the DNR, 41 problem wolves were killed last year, including three by landowners. None have been killed so far this year.

Last year, 30 farms had a loss of livestock from a wolf, the agency said.

Minnesota or Michigan are not considering allowing hunting of wolves any time soon, Wydeven said.

Timber wolves are listed as endangered in most of the lower 48 states. Alaska is the only state that permits wolf hunts, Wydeven said, adding that three western states are considering it.

Wisconsin’s management strategy calls for a maximum population of 350 animals outside of Indian reservations.

The population has been growing about 12 percent annually, but Wydeven said that trend could be over.

“We have some evidence that the growth is slowing down,” he said.

There could be other barriers to starting a wolf hunt.

A pending lawsuit filed last year by four animal advocacy groups demands that the Fish and Wildlife Service place wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota back on the endangered species list. Groups involved included the Humane Society of the United States, Help Our Wolves Live, the Animal Protection Institute, now known as Born Free USA, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment.

On the Net:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:
http://www.dnr.state.wi.us

Conservation Congress: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/nrboard/congress

 

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