Hunting, Wolves and Reintroducing Species

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DRAFT QUESTION: Should citizens of Wisconsin be able to hunt wolves seasonally after being reintroduced to the state?

Hunting Wolves in Wisconsin has become a very controversial topic. There are many different attitudes towards wolves because of the behaviors and environments they need to live in. State and federal governments have been battling this topic for the last century and have yet to come up with an answer. Wolves have been on and off the endangered species list in the last 50 years and haven't had a stable population since the 1800's. If hunted, Wolf populations could become extinct and if left alone, they could hurt livestock and peoples businesses. It is hard to find a morally and humane means to deal with these circumstances and pressure coming from the effected communities.

Wolf History In Wisconsin

Thousands of wolves lived throughout the state of Wisconsin in the 1800s. As European settlers and trappers came about, the wolves' prey composed of elk, deer, and bison decreased drastically. In order to find food wolves would go after easy-to-capture livestock to maintain a food source. Farmers saw this as a threat to their livelihoods and pressured the Wisconsin Government to intervene. Wisconsin Legislature passed a state bounty of $5 for every wolf killed. By 1900, two thirds of the wolf population had been eliminated from the state. With overwhelming support from citizens, the Wisconsin government quadrupled the bounty to $20 for adults killed and $10 for any pups. By 1960, it was presumed there were no more wolves left in Wisconsin and declared extinct.The story was similar throughout the United States. Few wolves remained in the lower 48 states.[1] The Endangered Species Act of 1966 was created to help conserve, restore and determine what animals needed immediate help. The initial intent of the Act wasn't meant for the wolves, but for the whooping crane. Wolves eventually fell under its protection but the Endangered Species Preservation Act had some flaws: it did not prohibit taking endangered species; acknowledged only select endangered species; and did not protect habitats. [2] In 1974, however, the value of timber wolves was recognized on the federal level and they were given protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1974. [1]

Eradication in Wisconsin

Before Wisconsin was settled in the 1830s, wolves lived throughout the state. Nobody knows how many wolves there were, but best estimates would be 3,000-5,000 animals. Unlike some species in the area wolves are native to Wisconsin. They have been here as long as First Nations have, so the existence of wolves in the area is nothing new. Wolves are a part of many First Nations tribes’ culture. For example, the Ojibwe consider the wolf to be sacred.[3] Wisconsin Legislature created a bounty system to lower the population of Wolves in the state. The citizens took to the bounty exceptionally well and by the 1900's nearly two thirds of the wolves were gone. In 1957, the Wisconsin Legislature called off the bounty. By 1960, the wolf had been officially eradicated from the state.[1]

Support and Preservation

Support for the return of wolves was widespread in Wisconsin, but not overwhelming. In 1960, it was thought that the grey wolf in Wisconsin was extinct and couldn't make a return to Wisconsin. In 1975, however, they found two functioning packs in Wisconsin counties. Researchers believe this was due to wolf packs migrating from Minnesota and later arriving in eastern Wisconsin.The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) also maintained a separate list of state endangered and threatened species, and with their return, gray wolves were listed as endangered species under state law in 1975. In 1979, the WDNR began a program of formal monitoring of the wolf population. Since 1979, the WDNR have used a combination of snow-track surveys, aerial radio-tracking, summer howling surveys, and collection of observations of wolves to estimate the size of wolf populations annually. [4]In 1980, 25 wolves in 5 packs occurred in the state, but dropped to 14 in 1985 when parvovirus reduced pup survival and killed adults. Wisconsin DNR completed a wolf recovery plan in 1989. The recovery plan set a state goal for reclassifying wolves as threatened once the population remained at or above 80 for three years.[1] With citizen education of the law, volunteer tracking efforts and legislative protection the wolf population boomed. By the 2000s there reported to be more than 200 wolves in the state across 12 counties. This increase in stability and comeback changed the status of the wolf species from endangered to threatened in 2005.

Public Backlash

In the early 2000s, the wolf population was thriving but there were a lot of complaints from Wisconsinites about pets and livestock being attacked by wolves. With Wisconsin being a predominately farming state, this was becoming a major problem with multiple reports and incidents occurring weekly.From 2001 to 2009, Wisconsin's wolf population rose from 257 to 655 animals, and it was widely reported that wolf abundance exceeded the state and federal targets . Authority for wolf management or lethal control oscillated between state and federal agencies. Both wolves and encounters between wolves and people occurred in the upper half of the state, and the number of wolf attacks on domestic animals, including pets, more than doubled from 358 (1982–2000) to 736.[5] With so many incidents occurring the state battled over whether or not to have an organized hunting season. In 2012, after several years of debate Wisconsin held its first ever hunting season and 119 wolves were killed by sport hunters and trappers, and in 2013, over 250 wolves were killed by hunters including 29 with the aid of hunting hounds. The 2014 survey registered a 19% decrease in overall wolf numbers, and last year the hunting quota was reduced to 150 animals, with four more killed by hunters, trappers and houndsmen. [6] Public view on wolves hasn't changed either. They like the idea of wolves in Wisconsin but not when they are directly contacted by them. Most of the southern counties didn't care for wolves but the northern counties were not happy because of the fear they bring. No wolf-human incidents have been reported or deaths. Only incidents that have been reported have been livestock and pets.

Endangered Species Once Again

There is a lot of debate on whether the wolf should have been relisted under the Endangered Species Act. Many citizens didn't believe wolves should have been relisted. From 2013 to 2014 the wolf population had dropped from 740 wolves to 660 before the harvesting season. However, from 2014 to 2015 the wolf population had increased to 760 wolves. After researching, and data collecting there is an estimated 800 wolves in Wisconsin. Wolf biologists and scholars have written to Congressmen and made petitions that the wolf population isn't what it seems. Of those 800 tracked, they state there are many more because they can't track them all. Biologists believe wolves should be de-listed so they can be controlled. Harvesting and hunting seasons keep the species in check and keep citizens aware of the situation.[7]


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