Elk NetworkNorthwoods

Conservation | January 1, 2016

North Woods states galloping toward quota in first wolf hunts

Hunters in Wisconsin and Minnesota are showing they are just as capable at finding wolves as they are at finding Boone and Crockett whitetails. 

Wisconsin gave hunters and trappers five months to fill a 116-wolf quota during its first modern season opening October 15. Yet sportsmen may well hit that mark in less than half the allotted time. As Bugle went to press in late November, the harvest already stood at 98 wolves. Biologists estimate Wisconsin was home to upwards of 815 wolves going into the season. 

Wisconsin had initially planned for a quota of 201 wolves, reserving 85 specifically for the six Chippewa Indian tribes that have treaty-protected hunting rights in the northern third of the state. These tribes said they had cultural objections to the hunt, though, and tribal members chose not to participate. In August, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources rejected a claim by the Chippewa attempting to protect all wolves in the northern part of the state from hunting this winter.

Hunting is both a huge passion and big business in Wisconsin. The state sold more than 600,000 rifle deer tags this year, and hunters filled more than a third of them during the eight-day season in November. More than 20,000 people applied for the 1,160 wolf licenses the state gave out by lottery, with residents paying $100 and nonresidents $500. 

Legal methods included firearms, bows and crossbows, traps, predator calls (including electronic calls), and some use of baits. Tracking wolves using dogs was also set to be allowed until a lawsuit by animal rights groups put it on hold before the season commenced. The speed at which sportsmen were still able to fill the quota has some arguing dogs aren’t necessary to meet wolf harvest objectives. Hunters outnumbered trappers by a substantial margin, but trapping accounted for more than 60 percent of the harvest.

Next door in Minnesota, where the only thing that gets folks more riled up than the Vikings-Packers game is deer season, hunters are also exceeding expectations. The state broke its wolf hunt into an early and late season, aiming to kill a total of 400 wolves. The early season opened November 9—and lasted one or two weeks depending on the area. Even though the early season had a 200-wolf quota, biologists said they’d be pleasantly surprised if hunters harvested 100 animals before trapping began November 24. Instead, hunters killed 32 on opening day and 147 wolves all told in the early season. 

At press time, as the late season began, hunters and trappers were off to a brisk start, claiming 30 wolves in the first four days. The late season quota is 253 wolves. 

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued 3,600 wolf permits for the early season and 2,400 for the late season to the 23,000 that applied to hunt. The late season runs until January 31—unless the quota is met before that. At last count, Minnesota was home to nearly 3,000 wolves, the most by far of any state in the Lower 48.

Michigan, meanwhile, moved a step closer to holding a wolf hunt of its own. On November 29, its state Senate voted 23-15 to designate wolves as a big game species. A similar measure is pending in the state House. If passed, this bill wouldn’t guarantee a hunt, but it would authorize the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to establish a wolf season. The commission has seven members appointed by the governor. 

As with neighboring states, talk of a wolf hunt in Michigan hasn’t come without controversy. Opponents of the bill told the Associated Press that if the state legislature approves it, they might seek a statewide ballot initiative to overturn it. 

Wolves were placed on the endangered species list in Michigan in 1973 after the population dwindled to just six on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. The species has since rebounded to roughly 700 wolves, all of them roaming Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As numbers have grown, so have complaints about wolves’ impact on livestock and pets. They also consume some 17,000 to 29,000 white-tailed deer per year, along with more than a few moose, according to a report from the state Department of Natural Resources. Despite this, DNR reported most hunters finding good deer numbers in 2012, with some areas of the central U.P. seeing their highest numbers of deer through state game check stations in several years.

 Michigan is home to upwards of 1,000 elk, the largest elk herd in the Great Lakes region, but they all live in the state’s “lower” mainland where no wolves have ventured so far.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves in the Great Lakes area from endangered species protections in January 2012, shifting management to the states and allowing Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to hold hunting seasons. 
RMEF’S take: 

RMEF's Take
Minnesota and Wisconsin’s experience is yet another example of why state-based management is so valuable. Wildlife management requires the ability to quickly adapt to the unique circumstances of different areas and different species. Wildlife have shown time and again that we don’t live in a one-size-fits all world. Even if Great Lakes wolves are genetically the same species as those in the northern Rockies, they are a considerably different animal to hunt because of where they live. Thanks to state management, next year’s wolf hunt will be able to adapt on a local level to meet local needs. This will maintain a healthy and balanced wolf population in these states, as well as healthy deer, elk and moose herds. If Michigan chooses to follow the same path, RMEF is confident they will achieve similar results.