On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced a 19 percent drop in the state’s gray wolf population. The decline is close to what biologists expected would result from Wisconsin’s wolf quotas for the 2013 season. According to the Associated Press, wolf hunting seasons have had a visible impact on the number of wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. After decades of successful conservation efforts in the Great Lakes region, the combined wolf population of the three states had reached well beyond 4,000 in 2012. The introduction of managed hunts brought that number down to 2,900, although officials say that the proposed goal is for an even smaller population of healthy and thriving wolves.

A preliminary 2014 late-winter wolf count conducted by the Wisconsin DNR found that there are between 658 to 687 wolves living in the state. That number is down from last year’s minimum count of 809 to 834 wolves. Wildlife officials attribute this drop to a higher 2013 quota and a focus on encouraging hunter success. The 2013 statewide harvest quota of 251 wolves was reached in a little over two months by hunters and trappers.

“The Wolf Advisory Committee last year recommended a more aggressive harvest to start bringing the population down towards the goal that is stated in the 1999 Wolf Management Plan, which is 350 animals,” Jane Wiedenhoeft, a DNR biologist, told the University of Madison’s Badger Herald.

After last season, Wisconsin now has roughly the same number of wolves as nearby Michigan, which held its first wolf hunt in 2013 with 22 animals harvested. Although Michigan set much lower quotas than Wisconsin and Minnesota, the issue is no less important there than in other states.

According to MLive.com, both supporters and opponents of the wolf season have raised nearly $1.9 million combined to put the issue of whether or not wolf seasons should be allowed on the ballot. The battle to protect or end the season has drawn in hunters, conservationists, farmers, animal rights advocates, and residents of the state’s Upper Peninsula, where the wolves mainly reside. Michigan wildlife officials are currently studying the results of last year’s hunt before finalizing any plans for the next season.

The lion’s share of wolves in the Great Lakes region still belongs to Minnesota, which also has the highest harvest numbers. In early 2013, officials counted over 2,200 wolves in the Gopher State, but that number is now expected to be significantly lower.

Image from Heather Paul on the flickr Creative Commons

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