The hunting of wolves has been a widely debated topic due to various concerns and perspectives involving wolf populations. Throughout history, the wolf has been persecuted by hunters and farmers throughout the Mid-West due to conflicting interests. This has led to many legal battles to determine who gets to control the wolf population, how large the population should be, and how this population is controlled.
"Beast of Waste and Destruction"
In the 1800s, there thousands of wolves lived throughout Wisconsin. As European and American explorers and settlers descended upon Wisconsin, the population of game, such as elk and deer, decreased. In response, wolves attacked the Wisconsinites' livestock to survive. A bounty was placed upon the wolves with the state paying a sum for each wolf killed. By 1900, no timber wolves existed in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin. As a predecessor to the Endangered Species Act, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 had wolves listed within to protect the species. However, there were problems with the act, such as the protection only going to the animals and not to the environment the animals lived in. Seven years later, the Endangered Species Act was passed to address shortcomings of the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and many subspecies of wolves came under its protection.
Endangered Species Act
Under the Endangered Species Act (1973) wolves were given protection from unregulated killing. The Act also allowed for people to implement programs to reintroduce and manage wolf populations with the help of scientific research. Starting in 1979, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began their program to monitor wolves. By 1980 there were twenty-five wolves in five packs, but due to disease this was reduced to fourteen. A wolf recovery and reintroduction plan was completed in 1989 with the goal of keeping the wolf population above eighty for at least three years. Ten years later, a new plan was completed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with the goal of having the wolf population be maintained between two hundred and fifty and three hundred and fifty wolves outside of First Nations Reservations. In the end, wolves were reclassified as threatened with two hundred and five wolves in the state.
The year 2003 marked the start of many legal battles regarding wolf population. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service changed the wolves' status from endangered to threatened, which allowed for people to kill wolves. This decision was rolled back in 2005 by two federal courts. That same year, the USFWS issued special permits to Wisconsin to allowed for state officials to kill wolves. These permits were thrown out due to a lawsuit by the Human Society. In 2007, the USFWS posts rules that de-list the gray wolf in the western Great Lakes. By the next year, federal courts overturns the decision, reinstating protection for gray wolves. In 2009, the USFWS de-lists the gray wolf population again, with an agreement coming out between the USFWS and the Humane Society to reinstate federal protection for wolves. This does not last long as at the end of 2011, the USFWS once again de-lists the gray wolf. By 2012, Wisconsin enacts a mandated wolf hunting and trapping season from 2012 to 2013. In 2013, the Humane Society and the USFWS debate in court over the de-listing of wolves from the Endangered Species Act. By the end of 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia overturns the rule de-listing the wolves, having the hunting season come to and end early.
In June 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources proposed a quota of one hundred and forty-three to two hundred and thirty-three wolves for the hunting season that started in October. The intention was to decrease the population from eight hundred eighty-eight wolves to about three hundred and fifty wolves. The proposed hunting season was from October to February. The licences given out would be good for both hunting and trapping wolves. Night hunting for the wolves was permitted beginning after deer season. Foothold traps were allowed so long as the jaw of the trap did not spread past seven inches and cable restraints were used starting that December. The rules in participating in the hunt required hunters to report their kill within twenty-four hours. Once quotas were reached, the hunting seasons were closed.
In December of 2014, a court decision was made to overturn the decision by the USFWS to de-list wolves from the Endangered Species Act. The immediate affects following this decision were that the hunting season would come to an end, invalidating all wolf hunting permits. Wisconsin is also unable to create any more wolf harvesting seasons. As well, the Wisconsin DNR's conflict management program is unable to use lethal control as a way to control conflicts between wolves and humans. Landowners are unauthorized to kill wolves on their property, even those attacking domestic animals. Lastly, dogs can not be used to track and hunt wolves.